Front Page Titles (by Subject) section i: Of Practical Ethics, or the Culture of the Mind - The Elements of Moral Philosophy
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section i: Of Practical Ethics, or the Culture of the Mind - David Fordyce, The Elements of Moral Philosophy 
The Elements of Moral Philosophy, in Three Books with a Brief Account of the Nature, Progress, and Origin of Philosophy, ed. Thomas Kennedy (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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Of Practical Ethics, or the Culture of the Mind
Dignity and Importance of the SubjectWe have now gone thro’ a particular Detail of the several Duties we owe to Ourselves, to Society, and to God. In considering the first Order of Duties, we just touched on the Methods of acquiring the different kinds of Goods, which we are led by Nature to pursue; only we left the Consideration of the Method of acquiring the Moral Goods of the Mind to a Section by itself, because of its singular Importance. This Section then will contain a brief Enumeration of the Arts of acquiring Virtuous Habits, and of eradicating Vitious Ones, as far as is consistent with the Brevity of such a Work; a Subject of the utmost Difficulty as well as importance in Morals; to which, nevertheless, the least Attention has been generally given by Moral Writers. This will properly follow a Detail of Duty, as it will direct us to such Means or Helps as are most necessary and conducive to the Practice of it.
Sensible Ideas and sensible TasteIn the first Part of this Inquiry we traced the Order in which the Passions shoot up in the different Periods of human Life. That Order is not accidental, or dependent on the Caprice of Men, or the Influence of Custom and Education; but arises from the Original Constitution and Laws of our Nature; of which this is one, viz. “That senseble Objects make the first and strongest Impressions on the Mind.” These, by means of our outward Organs being conveyed to the Mind, become Objects of its Attention, on which it reflects, when the outward Objects are no longer present, or, in other words, when the Impressions upon the outward Organs cease. These Objects of the Mind’s Reflection are called Ideas or Images. Towards these, by another Law of our Nature, we are not altogether indifferent, but correspondent Movements of Desire or Aversion, Love or Hatred, arise, according as the Objects, of which they are Images or Copies, made an agreeable or disagreeable Impression on our Organs. Those Ideas and Affections which we experience in the first Period of Life, we refer to the Body, or to Sense; and the Taste which is formed towards them, we call a sensible, or a merely naturalTaste; and the Objects corresponding to them we in general call good or pleasant.
Ideas of Beauty and a fine TasteBut, as the Mind moves forward in its Course, it extends its Views, and receives a new and more complex Set of Ideas, in which it observes Uniformity, Variety, Similitude, Symmetry of Parts, Reference to an End, Novelty, Grandeur. These compose a vast Train and Diversity of Imagery, which the Mind compounds, divides, and moulds into a thousand Forms, in the Absence of those Objects which first introduced it. And this more complicated Imagery suggests a new Train of Desires and Affections, full as sprightly and engaging as any which have yet appeared. This whole Class of Perceptions or Impressions is referred to the Imagination, and forms an higher Taste than the Sensible, and which has an immediate and mighty Influence on the finer Passions of our Nature, and is commonly termed a fineTaste.
The Objects which correspond to this Taste we use to call beautiful, harmonious, great, or wonderful, or in general by the Name of Beauty.
Moral Ideas and a Moral TasteThe Mind still pushing onwards and increasing its Stock of Ideas, ascends from those to an higher Species of Objects, viz. the Order and Mutual Relations of Minds to each other, their reciprocal Affections, Characters, Actions, and various Aspects. In these it discovers a Beauty, a Grandeur, a Decorum, more interesting and alluring than in any of the former kinds. These Objects, or the Images of them, passing in review before the Mind, do, by a necessary Law of our Nature, call forth another and nobler Set of Affections, as Admiration, Esteem, Love, Honour, Gratitude, Benevolence, and others of the like Tribe. This Class of Perceptions and their correspondent Affections, we refer because of their Objects (Manners) to a Moral Sense, and call the Taste or Temper they excite Moral. And the Objects which are agreeable to this Taste or Temper we denominate by the general Name of MoralBeauty, in order to distinguish it from the other which is termed Natural.
Sources of AssociationThese different Sets of Ideas or Images are the Materials about which the Mind employs itself, which it blends, ranges, and diversifies ten thousand different ways. It feels a strong Propension to connect and associate those Ideas among which it observes any Similitude, or any Aptitude, whether original and natural, or customary and artificial, to suggest each other. Thus it is ready to associate the Ideas of Natural and Moral Beauty, as both partake of the same Principle, viz. Design, Harmony of Parts, or Reference to an End, and are Relative to Mind, the common Origin of Both. A fine Face, or a graceful Deportment, naturally suggests Ideas of Moral Beauty. And many outward Badges, as Crowns, Crosiers, Purple Robes, and Statues, do often, by the Force of Custom, excite Moral Sentiments, as Majesty, Piety, Justice, Virtue. If any particular Sets of Ideas have been found, at any time, to co-exist in the same Objects, the Mind shall ever after have a Propensity to unite them, even when they no longer co-exist. Thus, because we have sometimes seen a good Temper accompany a good Aspect, Virtue annexed to Politeness, Merit to Fame, we are strongly inclined to fancy that they can never be disunited. When any Ideas or Sets of Ideas have been produced by certain Objects or Occasions immediately and presently, which Objects or Occasions have afterwards given rise to a different and perhaps quite opposite Set of Ideas or Impressions, the same Objects recurring, shall bring in view the former Set, while the latter, being posterior in time, shall be entirely forgot. Thus the Drinker or Rake, upon seeing his Bottle, and his Companion, or Mistress, shall amuse himself with all the gay Ideas of agreeable Fellowship, Friendship, Gentleman-like Enjoyment, giving and receiving Pleasures, which those Objects first excited, but, by an unhappy Self-delusion, shall over-look those Head achs, Heart-achs, that Satiety, and those other mortifying Impressions which accompanied though more laterly, his intemperate Indulgences.
Laws of AssociationBut whatever the Reasons are, whether Similitude, Co-existence, Causality, or any other Aptitude or Relation, why any two or more Ideas are connected by the Mind at first, it is an established Law of our Nature, “That when two or more Ideas have often started in Company, they form so strong an Union, that it is very difficult ever after to separate them.” Thus the Lover cannot separate the Idea of Merit from his Mistress; the Courtier that of Dignity from his Title or Ribbon; the Miser that of Happiness from his Bags. Here the Mind’s Process is often the same as in its more abstracted Operations. When it has once been convinced of the Truth of any Geometrical Proposition, it may strongly retain the Connection of the Terms of the Proposition, suppose the Equality of the Angles of a Triangle to two Right ones, though it does not attend to, or has perhaps forgot, the intervening Ideas which shewed that Connection. In like manner, tho perhaps it was the Tendency of Wealth and Power, when well employed, to private Pleasure, or public Happiness, that gave the fond Admirers of either the first Notion of their Value, yet their Mind having once settled that Connection, frequently forgets the immediate Link, viz. the wise or generous Use, and by degrees come to admire Wealth and Power for themselves, fancying them intrinsically valuable, however they are used, and whether used or not. By these and many other ways the strongest Associations of Ideas are formed, the different Sets of Ideas before mentioned are shuffled together without Regularity or Distinction, often without any Natural Alliance or Relation, by mere Accident, Example, Company, Sympathy, Education, and sometimes by Caprice. So that any kind of Natural Good shall be combined with Moral Beauty, nay Ideas the most opposite in Nature shall be coupled together, so as hardly to be ever disunited in the Observer’s Mind: as for instance, Prudence with Craft, Honour with Injustice, Religion with Inhumanity, Corruption or Sedition with Patriotism.—It is these Associations of Worth or Happiness with any of the different Sets of Objects or Images before specified, that form our Taste, or Complex Idea of Good. By another Law of our Nature, “our Affections follow and are governed by this Taste. And to these Affections our Character and Conduct are similar and proportioned, on the general Tenour of which our Happiness principally depends.”
Leading Passions follow TasteAs all our Leading Passions then depend on the Direction which our Taste takes, and as it is always of the same Strain with our Leading Associations, it is worth while to enquire a little more particularly how these are formed, in order to detect the secret Sources from whence our Passions derive their principal Strength, their various Rises and Falls. For this will give us the true Key to their Management, and let us into the right Method of correcting the bad and improving the good.
The Importance and Use of the ImaginationA very slight Inspection into human Nature suggests to us, that no kind of Objects make so powerful an Impression on us as those which are immediately impressed on our Senses, or strongly painted on our Imaginations. Whatever is purely Intellectual, as abstracted or scientific Truths, the subtile Relations and Differences of Things, has a fainter sort of Existence in the Mind; and though it may exercise and whet the Memory, the Judgment, or the Reasoning Powers, gives hardly any Impulse at all to the Active Powers, the Passions, which are the main Springs of Motion. On the other hand, were the Mind entirely under the Direction of Sense, and impressible only by such Objects as are present, and strike some of the outward Organs, we should then be precisely in the State of the Brute-Creation, and be governed solely by Instinct or Appetite, and have no Power to controul whatever Impressions are made upon us: Nature has therefore endued us with a middleFaculty, wonderfully adapted to our mixed State, which holds partly of Sense and partly of Reason, being strongly allied to the former, and the common Receptacle in which all the Notices that come from that quarter are treasured up, and yet greatly subservient and ministerial to the latter, by giving a Body, a Coherence, and Beauty to its Conceptions. This middle Faculty is called the Imagination, one of the most busy and fruitful Powers of the Mind. Into this common Storehouse are likewise carried all those Moral Images or Forms which are derived from our Moral Faculties of Perception, and there they often undergo new Changes and Appearances, by being mixed and wrought up with the Images and Forms of Sensible or Natural Things. By this Coalition of Imagery, Natural Beauty is dignified and heightened by Moral Qualities and Perfections, and Moral Qualities are at once exhibited, and set off by Natural Beauty. The sensible Beauty, or Good, is refined from its Dross by partaking of the Moral, and the Moral receives a Stamp, a visible Character and Currency from the Sensible.—But in order to judge of this mutual Influence, it will be proper to give a few Instances of the Process of the Imagination, or of the Energy of the associating Principle.
Its Energy in various Instances, in heightening sensible PleasuresAs we are first of all accustomed to sensible Impressions and sensible Enjoyments, we contract early a Sensual Relish, or Love of Pleasure, in the lower Sense of the Word. In order however to justify this Relish, the Mind, as it becomes open to higher Perceptions of Beauty and Good, borrows from thence a nobler Set of Images, as fine Taste, Generosity, social Affection, Friendship, good Fellowship, and the like; and, by dressing out the old Pursuits with these new Ornaments, gives them an additional Dignity and Lustre. By these ways the Desire of a Table, Love of Finery, Intrigue, and Pleasure, are vastly increased beyond their natural Pitch, having an Impulse combined of the Force of the natural Appetites and of the super-added Strength of those Passions which tend to the Moral Species.
In heightening the Pleasures of Beauty, Harmony, &c.When the Mind becomes more sensible to those Objects or Appearances, in which it perceives Beauty, Uniformity, Grandeur, and Harmony, as fine Cloaths, elegant Furniture, Plate, Pictures, Gardens, Houses, Equipage, the Beauty of Animals, and particularly the Attractions of the Sex; to these Objects the Mind is led by Nature, or taught by Custom, the Opinion and Example of others, to annex certain Ideas of Moral Character, Dignity, Decorum, Honour, Liberality, Tenderness, and Active or Social Enjoyment. The Consequence of this Association is, that the Objects to which these are annexed, must rise in their Value, and be pursued with proportionable Ardor. The Enjoyment of them is often attended with Pleasure, and the mere Possession of them, where that is wanting, frequently draws Respect from one’s Fellow-creatures: this Respect is, by many, equivalent to the Pleasure of Enjoyment. Hence it happens that the Idea of Happiness is connected with the mere Possession, which is therefore eagerly sought after, without any regard to the generous Use, or honourable Enjoyment. Thus the Passion resting on the Means, not the End, i.e. losing sight of its natural Object, becomes wild and extravagant.
In raising the Value of external Symbols, &c.In fine, any Object, or External Denomination, a Staff, a Garter, a Cup, a Crown, a Title, may become a Moral Badge, or Emblem of Merit, Magnificence or Honour, according as these have been found, or thought by the Possessors or Admirers of them, to accompany them; yet, by the Deception formerly mentioned, the Merit or the Conduct which entitled, or should entitle, to those Marks of Distinction, shall be forgot or neglected, and the Badges themselves be passionately affected, or pursued, as including every Excellency. If these are attained by any Means, all the Concomitants which Nature, Custom, or Accidents have joined to them, will be supposed to follow of course. Thus, Moral Ends, with which the unhappy Admirer is apt to colour over his Passion and Views, will, in his opinion, justify the most Immoral Means, as Prostitution, Adulation, Fraud, Treachery, and every Species of Knavery, whether more open, or more disguised.
In heightening the Value of Wealth, Power, &c.When Men are once engaged in Active Life, and find that Wealth and Power, generally called Interest, are the great Avenues to every kind of Enjoyment, they are apt to throw in many engaging Moral Forms to the Object of their Pursuit, in order to justify their Passion, and varnish over the Measures they take to gratify it, as Independency on the Vices or Passions of others, Provision and Security to themselves and Friends, Prudent Oeconomy or well-placed Charity, Social Communication, Superiority to their Enemies, who are all Villains, honourable Service, and many other Ingredients of Merit. To attain such Capacities of Usefulness or Enjoyment, what Arts, nay what Meannesses can be thought blameable by those cool Pursuers of Interest?—Nor have they, whom the gay World is pleased to indulge with the Title of Men of Pleasure, their Imaginations less pregnant with Moral Images, with which they never fail to ennoble, or, if they cannot do that, to palliate their gross Pursuits. Thus Admiration of Wit, of Sentiments and Merit, Friendship, Love, generous Sympathy, mutual Confidence, giving and receiving Pleasure, are the ordinary Ingredients with which they season their Gallantry and pleasurable Entertainments; and by which they impose on themselves and endeavour to impose on others, that their Amours are the joint Issue of Good-sense and Virtue.
Its Influence on all the PassionsThese Associations, variously combined and proportioned by the Imagination, from the chief private Passions, which govern the Lives of the Generality, as the Love of Action, of Pleasure, Wealth, and Fame; they influence the Defensive, and affect the public Passions, and raise Joy or Sorrow, as they are gratified or disappointed. So that in effect, these Associations of Good and Evil, Beauty and Deformity, and the Passions they raise, are the main Hinges of Life and Manners, and the great Sources of our Happiness or Misery. It is evident, therefore, that the whole of Moral Culture must depend on giving a right Direction to the Leading Passions, and duly proportioning them to the Value of the Objects or Goods pursued, under what Name soever they may appear.
Moral Culture, by Correcting our Taste or ImaginationNow, in order to give them this right Direction and due Proportion, it appears, from the foregoing Detail, that those Associations of Ideas, upon which the Passions depend, must be duly regulated; that is to say, as an exorbitant Passion for Wealth, Pleasure, or Power, flows from an Association or Opinion that more Beauty and Good, whether Natural or Moral, enters into the Enjoyment or Possession of them, than really belongs to either; therefore, in restoring those Passions to their just Proportion, we must begin with correcting the Opinion, or breaking the false Association, or, in other words, we must decompound the Complex Phantom of Happiness or Good, which we fondly admire; disunite those Ideas, that have no natural Alliance; and separate the Original Ideas of Wealth, Power, or Pleasure, from the foreign Mixtures incorporated with it, which enhance its Value, or give it its chief Power to enchant and seduce the Mind. For instance, let it be considered how poor and inconsiderable a Thing Wealth is, if it be disjoined from real Use, or from Ideas of Capacity in the Possessor to do good from Independency, Generosity, Provision for a Family or Friends, and Social Communication with others. By this Standard let its true Value be fixed; let its Misapplication, or unbenevolent Enjoyment be accounted sordid and infamous; and nothing worthy or estimable be ascribed to the mere Possession of it, which is not borrowed from its generous Use.
By Self-denial, and Counter-ProcessIf that complex Form of Good which is called Pleasure, engages us, let it be analysed into its constituent Principles, or those Allurements it draws from the Heart and Imagination, in order to heighten the low part of the Indulgence; let the separate and comparative Moment of each be distinctly ascertained, and deduced from that gross part, and this Remainder of the accumulative Enjoyment will dwindle down into a poor, insipid, transitory thing. In proportion as the Opinion of the Good pursued abates, the Admiration must decay, and the Passion lose Strength of course. One effectual way to lower the Opinion, and consequently to weaken the Habit founded on it, is to practice lesser pieces of Self-denial, or to abstain, to a certain pitch, from the Pursuit or Enjoyment of the favourite Object; and, that this may be the more easily accomplished, one must avoid those Occasions, that Company, those Places and the other Circumstances that enflamed one and endeared the other. And, as a Counter-process, let higher or even different Enjoyments be brought in view, other Passions played upon the former, different Places frequented, other Exercises tried, Company kept with Persons of a different, or more correct way of thinking, both in Natural and Moral Subjects.
By a Sound and Natural EducationAs much depends on our setting out well in Life, let the Youthful Fancy, which is apt to be very florid and luxuriant, be early accustomed, by Instruction, Example, and significant Moral Exercises, nay by Looks, Gestures, and every other Testimony of just Approbation or Blame, to annex Ideas of Merit, Honour and Happiness, not to Birth, Dress, Rank, Beauty, Fortune, Power, Popularity, and the like outward Things, but to Moral and truly virtuous Qualities, and to those Enjoyments which spring from a well-informed Judgment, and a regular Conduct of the Affections, especially those of the social and disinterested kind. Such dignified Forms of Beauty and Good, often suggested, and, by moving Pictures and Examples, warmly recommended to the Imagination, enforced by the Authority of Conscience, and demonstrated by Reason to be the surest Means of Enjoyment, and the only independent, undeprivable and durable Goods, will be the best Counter-balance to meaner Passions, and the firmest Foundation and Security to Virtue.
By rightly studying Human NatureIt is of great Importance to the forming a just Taste, or pure and large Conceptions of Happiness, to study and understand Human Nature well, to remember what a complicated System it is, particularly to have deeply imprinted on our Mind that Gradation of Senses, Faculties, and Powers of Enjoyment formerly mentioned, and the Subordination of Goods resulting from thence, which Nature points out, and the Experience of Mankind confirms; who, when they think seriously, and are not under the immediate Influence of some violent Prejudice or Passion, prefer not the Pleasures of Action, Contemplation, Society, and most Exercises and Joys of the Moral kind, as Friendship, Natural Affection, and the like, to all Sensual Gratifications whatsoever. Where the different Species of Pleasure are blended into one Complex Form, let them be accurately distinguished, and be referred each to its proper Faculty and Sense, and examined apart what they have peculiar, what common with others, and what foreign and adventitious. Let Wealth, Grandeur, Luxury, Love, Fame, and the like, be tried by this Test, and their true Alloy will be found out.
By comparing the Moment and Abatements of different GoodsLet it be farther considered, whether the Mind may not be easy and enjoy itself greatly, though it want many of those Elegancies and Superfluities of Life which some possess, or that Load of Wealth and Power which others eagerly pursue, and under which they groan. Let the Difficulty of attaining, the Precariousness of possessing, and the many Abatements in enjoying over-grown Wealth and envyed Greatness, of which the weary Possessors so frequently complain—as the Hurry of Business, the Burthen of Company, of paying Attendance to the Few, and giving it to the Many, the Cares of keeping, the Fears of losing, and the Desires of increasing what they have, and the other Troubles which accompany this pitiful Drudgery and pompous Servitude—let these and the like Circumstances be often considered that are conducive to the removing or lessening the Opinion of such Goods, and the attendant Passions or Set of Passions will decay of course.
By observing our own Bent and Character, &c.Let the peculiar Bent of our Nature and Character be observed, whether we are most inclined to form Associations and relish Objects of the Sensible, Intellectual, or Moral kind. Let that which has the Ascendant be particularly watched, let it be directed to right Objects, be improved by proportioned Exercises, and guarded by proper Checks from an opposite Quarter. Thus, the Sensible turn may be exalted by the Intellectual, and a Taste for the Beauty of the fine Arts, and both may be made subservient to convey and rivet Sentiments highly Moral and public spirited. This inward Survey must extend to the Strength and Weaknesses of one’s Nature, one’s Condition, Connections, Habitudes, Fortune, Studies, Acquaintance, and the other Circumstances of one’s Life, from which every Man will form the justest Estimate of his own Dispositions and Character, and the best Rules for correcting and improving them. And, in order to do this with more Advantage, let those Times, or Critical Seasons be watched, when the Mind is best disposed towards a Change, and let them be improved by vigorous Resolutions, Promises, or whatever else will engage the Mind to persevere in Virtue. Let the Conduct, in fine, be often reviewed, and the Causes of its Corruption or Improvement be carefully observed.
By frequent Moral ExercisesIt will greatly conduce to refine the Moral Taste and strengthen the virtuous Temper, to accustom the Mind to the frequent Exercise of Moral Sentiments and Determinations, by reading History, Poetry, particularly of the Picturesque and Dramatic kind, the Study of the fine Arts; by conversing with the most eminent for Good-sense and Virtue; but above all by frequent and repeated Acts of Humanity, Compassion, Friendship, Politeness and Hospitality. It is Exercise gives Health and Strength. He that reasons most frequently becomes the wisest, and most enjoys the Pleasures of Wisdom. He who is most often affected by Objects of Compassion in Poetry, History, or real Life, will have his Soul most open to Pity and its delightful Pains and Duties. So he also who practices most diligently the Offices of Kindness and Charity, will by it cultivate that Disposition, from whence all his Pretensions to personal Merit must arise, his present and his future Happiness.
By an honest EmploymentAn useful and honourable Employment in Life will administer a thousand Opportunities of this kind, and greatly strengthen a Sense of Virtue and good Affections, which must be nourished by right Training, as well as our Understandings. For such an Employment, by enlarging one’s Experience, giving an Habit of Attention and Caution, or obliging one from Necessity or Interest, to keep a Guard over the Passions, and study the outward Decencies and Appearances of Virtue, will by degrees produce good Habits, and at length insinuate the Love of Virtue and Honesty for its own Sake.
By viewing Men and Manners in a fair LightIt is a great Inducement to the Exercise of Benevolence to view Human Nature in a favourable Light, to observe the Characters and Circumstances of Mankind on the fairest Sides, to put the best Constructions on their Actions they will bear, and to consider them as the Result of partial and mistaken, rather than ill Affections, or, at worst, as the Excesses of a pardonable Self-love, seldom or never the Effect of pure Malice.
By Consideration and pious ExercisesAbove all, the Nature and Consequences of Virtue and Vice, their Consequences being the Law of our Nature and Will of Heaven; the Light in which they appear to our Supreme Parent and Law-giver, and the Reception they will meet with from him, must be often attended to. The Exercises of Piety, as Adoration and Praise of the Divine Excellency, Invocation of, and Dependence on his Aid, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Resignation, are habitually to be indulged, and frequently performed, not only as medicinal, but highly improving to the Temper.
By just Views of Human Life and its Connection with a futureTo conclude: it will be of admirable Efficacy towards eradicating bad Habits, and implanting good ones, frequently to contemplate Human Life, as the great Nursery of our future and immortal Existence, as that State of Probation, in which we are to be educated for a Divine Life. To remember, that our Virtues or Vices will be immortal as ourselves, and influence our future as well as our present Happiness—and therefore, that every Disposition and Action is to be regarded as pointing beyond the present to an immortal Duration. An habitual Attention to this wide and important Connection will give a vast Compass and Dignity to our Sentiments and Actions, a noble Superiority to the Pleasures and Pains of Life, and a generous Ambition to make our Virtue as immortal as our Being.