Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION - The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
INTRODUCTION - Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 
The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, trans. Francis Hutcheson and James Moor, edited and with an Introduction by James Moore and Michael Silverthorne (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
On May 31, 1742, Francis Hutcheson in Glasgow sent to Thomas Drennan in Belfast some copies of The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Newly translated from the Greek: With Notes, and an Account of his Life (Glasgow: Printed by Robert Foulis and sold by him at the College: 1742).1
The letter that accompanied the dispatch of the books contained the following intriguing account:
The bearer Mr. Hay takes over some copies of a new translation of Antoninus, the greater half of which and more, was my amusement last summer, for the sake of a singular worthy soul one Foulis;2 but I don’t let my name appear in it, nor indeed have I told it to any here but the Man concerned. I hope that you’ll like it; the rest was done by a very ingenious Lad one Moore. 3 Pray try your critical faculty in finding what parts I did & what he did. I did not translate books in a suite, but I one or two, & he one or two. I hope if you like it that it may sell pretty well with you about Belfast I am sure it is doing a publick good to diffuse the Sentiments & if you knew Foulis you would think he deserved all incouragement.4
Hutcheson’s letter raises a number of questions: (1) Which books of The Meditations contain Hutcheson’s translations and notes and which books should be attributed to Moor? (2) What considerations prompted Hutcheson to undertake this translation and edition, apart from his announced desire to be of assistance to Robert Foulis and the Foulis press? (3) What might be the significance of Hutcheson’s notes to the text? Do they make up a coherent set of ideas concerning human nature, morals, politics, and religion? And what may be the relevance of these notes for our understanding of his other writings? (4) Why was Hutcheson determined that his name should not appear in the volume and that no one in Glasgow and its environs apart from Foulis should know the identity of the persons responsible for the translation and the notes? (5) And, finally, what was the significance of Hutcheson’s adaptation of The Meditations for the Enlightenment in Scotland?
Hutcheson and Moor: The Division of Responsibility
There is a prima facie problem concerning the respective contributions of Hutcheson and Moor to The Meditations. There are three pieces of external evidence, and they do not agree. The first is Hutcheson’s letter to Drennan, with his claim that he had done “the greater half . . . and more”; a claim complicated by the circumstance that Hutcheson originally wrote “the first half and more” and then struck through “first” and substituted “greater.” Clearly Hutcheson was reluctant to be specific and preferred to make a game of it with Drennan. The second bit of evidence is found in The Foulis Catalogue of Books (Glasgow, 1777), where it is reported that the first two books were by James Moor and the remainder by Hutcheson.5 This record of the matter has been accepted by many later scholars. 6 It has the merit of consistency with Hutcheson’s claim that he had done “one or two books,” and Moor, “one or two”; and it leaves Hutcheson with responsibility for the “greater half,” although not for the “first” half, as he had originally written.
There is another account of the matter. Thomas Reid entered the following note in his own copy of the 1764 edition of The Meditations: “Dr. Moor translated the 9th and 10th books. Dr. Francis Hutcheson the rest. Dr. Hutcheson wrote the Preface and Dr. Moor collected [sic!] the Proofs. This information I had from Dr. Moor.”7 We believe that Reid’s note is the most authoritative of the three versions of this matter. Books IX and X differ from the other books. The style of the translation of books IX and X lacks the characteristic flow of Hutcheson’s prose. These two books also contain a number of phrases not found elsewhere in the text. “Nature” or “the nature of the whole” is referred to as “she” (for example, bk. IX, art. 1, pp. 107–8)—the Greek phusis is a feminine noun—whereas elsewhere in The Meditations nature is referred to as “it.”
In the notes for books IX and X there are a number of references to Greek terminology and to Thomas Gataker’s translation of The Meditations from the Greek into Latin. A preoccupation with the original Greek of Marcus and with the quality of the translation by Gataker is not a conspicuous feature of the notes found in the other books. It is a concern, however, that might be expected of someone like Moor, who was renowned for the accuracy of his command of ancient Greek. In every one of the other books there are extensive notes that expand upon and interpret the philosophy of the Stoics, with the exception of the first book, which is concerned not with ideas but with individuals who influenced Marcus (many of them Stoics). The term Stoic is never used in books IX and X. Finally, in books IX and X, there is an abundance of citations to writers of the New Testament: fourteen in all; twice as many as are found in the notes to all of the other books combined. In light of these considerations, we conclude that Reid’s record of his conversation with Moor may be taken as the most authoritative of the three pieces of external evidence: books IX and X by Moor; the rest by Hutcheson.
The Glasgow Edition in Context: Other Editions and Influences
What prompted Hutcheson and Moor to undertake this translation and edition of The Meditations? One of their expressed motivations was stylistic. They were dissatisfied with the two translations then available in English. One was the translation by Meric Casaubon (1599–1671) published in 1634, 8 described by Hutcheson as “the old English translation”: it “can scarce be agreeable to any reader; because of the intricate and antiquated stile” (“Life of the Emperor,” p. 3). The other translation, published in 1701 (and reissued in 1714 and 1726), was by Jeremy Collier (1650–1726), a nonjuring Anglican clergyman best known for his attack on the English stage.9 This edition was described by Hutcheson as an exercise that “seems not to preserve the grand simplicity of the original.” Hutcheson tells us that his translation is “almost intirely new” and has been made “according to Gataker’s edition of the original, and his Latin version” (“Life of the Emperor,” p. 4). Thomas Gataker (1574–1654) was an Anglican clergyman with Puritan sympathies, who maintained good relations with Presbyterians and was a member of the Westminster Assembly. Gataker’s edition of The Meditations10 in Greek, with a translation and commentary on the text in Latin, has been described by a modern classical scholar as “a monument of vast and fastidious erudition,” which “has long been and will always remain, the principal authority for any one undertaking to study or edit the Meditations.”11 An enlarged version was published in London in 1697,12 with a dedication by George Stanhope (1660–1728) to Lord John Somers and a translation into Latin by Stanhope of a life of Marcus Aurelius, composed in French, by André Dacier (1652–1722).
It is this 1697 edition of The Meditations that Hutcheson and Moor used as the basis for their edition. Hutcheson informs the reader that the “short abstract” of the life of the emperor prefaced to his edition is “taken from the collections made by Dacier and Stanhope.” The “Maxims of the Stoics,” appended to the Hutcheson and Moor edition, was excerpted from Gataker’s “Praeloquium”:13 it had been included in the 1697 edition and, in English translation, in the 1701 edition. An abbreviated version of the 1697 edition was published in Oxford in 1704, with emendations by R. I. Oxoniensis (thought to be Richard Ibbetson).14 This edition, with the Greek text and Latin translation by Gataker on facing pages, was republished by Robert and Andrew Foulis, in Glasgow, in 1744.15 It was one of a dozen classical texts, published by the Foulis Press, that Hutcheson donated to the University of St. Andrews in 1746.16
While Moor’s particular talent was his mastery of ancient Greek, Hutcheson was also sensitive to the challenge of translating the technical Stoic vocabulary employed in The Meditations: such terms as hegemonikon (“ruling principle”) and hypexairesis (“reserve clause”) were part of this vocabulary.17 Hutcheson called attention to the difficulty of finding English words that would convey the meaning of these terms. He translated hegemonikon as “the governing part,” and in a note to bk. IV, art. I, p. 47, he wrote of the term hypexairesis: “The word here translated reservation, is a noted one among the Stoics, often used in Epictetus, Arrian, and Simplicius.” As Hutcheson explained it, the governing part of the mind may exercise a reservation upon desires for external things and then redirect the mind to the pursuit of “our sole good,” which “is in our own affections, purposes, and actions.”
It will also be evident that the language of Hutcheson’s translation remains very much his own. A. S. L. Farquharson, the editor of The Meditations,18 renders the first sentence of bk. II, art. 1, as follows: “I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men.” 19 Hutcheson translates the same sentence in his own idiom: “to day I may have to do with some intermeddler in other mens affairs, with an ungrateful man; an insolent, or a crafty, or an envious, or an unsociable selfish man” (p. 33).
As Hutcheson presents The Meditations, Marcus’s reflections are designed to directly affect the sensibility of the reader and excite a desire to contribute to the happiness of others. Marcus’s soliloquies, he tells us, “contain some of the plainest, and yet most striking considerations, to affect the hearts of those who have any sense of goodness”; they cannot fail to inspire in us “a constant inflexible charity, and good-will and compassion toward our fellows, superior to all the force of anger or envy, or our little interfering worldly interests” (p. 3). Marcus’s language, in short, posed no obstacle to Hutcheson’s discovering in The Meditations a moral philosophy very much congenial to and in harmony with his own. His reading of The Meditations may also have been influenced by the recognition that moralists whom he very much admired had discovered in the reflections of Marcus Aurelius insights of great relevance for themselves.
Shaftesbury declared that he had discovered the proper meaning of sensus communis, as that phrase had been used by Roman moralists and satirists, in the notes and commentaries on The Meditations by Meric Casaubon and Thomas Gataker.20 It was in the glosses of those commentators on the term translated by Hutcheson as “an unsociable, selfish man” that Shaftesbury recognized that sensus communis had been used by Juvenal, Horace, and Seneca “to signify sense of public weal and of the common interest, love of the community or society, natural affection, humanity, obligingness, or that sort of civility which rises from a just sense of the common rights of mankind, and the natural equality there is among those of the same species.”21 In the same essay, Shaftesbury went on to account for the origin of families, societies, clans, and tribes in a manner similar to Marcus (bk. IX, art. 9, pp. 109–10). Shaftesbury did not draw the conclusion formed by Marcus, however, that there is a universal happiness or good that all mankind may share. Instead, he thought that “Universal good, or the interest of the world in general, is a kind of remote philosophical object. That greater community falls not easily under the eye.”22 In this respect, Hutcheson’s concern for “universal happiness” has more in common, as we shall see, with Marcus and with Stoic ideals. Shaftesbury elsewhere considered Marcus “one of the wisest and most serious of ancient authors.”23 And he cited sayings of Marcus, together with excerpts from the works of Epictetus and Horace, to urge readers to withdraw their admiration and desire from objects that are merely pleasurable and direct them instead to “objects, whatever they are, of inward worth and beauty (such as honesty, faith, integrity, friendship, honour).”24
Another moralist whom Hutcheson held in high regard, Henry More, cited sayings of Marcus repeatedly throughout his handbook of morals, Enchiridion ethicum.25 More was particularly impressed by Marcus’s concept of the rational soul, of the idea that there is a divinity within us: “that every Man’s Mind is a God, and had its Original from him”;26 that “in the Judgment of that wisest Philosopher … to acquiesce in Nature’s common Law, is … to obey the common Reason, that is in God; nay, which is little less than God himself. For he is the living Law”;27 “that it was highly estimable to live benignly, and to practise Truth and Justice.”28 More, it may be added, was attempting in these citations to reconcile Stoic and neo-Platonic ideas concerning virtue with a reading of Aristotle’s ethics in which Right Reason was ultimately nothing more than the promptings of an “Inward Sense.”29
Hutcheson’s earliest reference to the work of Marcus Aurelius appears in An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections with Illustrations on the Moral Sense (1728) in the course of a response to John Clarke of Hull, who had argued, after Locke, that desire arises from the need to relieve uneasiness of some kind. Hutcheson replied: “the noblest Desire in our Nature, that of universal Happiness, is generally calm, and wholly free from any confused uneasy Sensation: except, in some warm Tempers, who, by a lively Imagination and frequent Attention to general Ideas, raise something of Passion even toward universal Nature. . . . See Marcus Aurelius, in many places.”30
A similar appeal to the reader to enlarge the scope of our desires was made in A System of Moral Philosophy (1755, but composed in the 1730s), in which Hutcheson explains the diversity of moral judgments by the tendency to confine moral approval to one’s own countrymen or, worse, to members of one’s own party or sect or cabal. He proposes that “we enlarge our views with truth and justice, and observe the structure of the human soul, pretty much the same in all nations; . . . we must find a sacred tye of nature binding us even to foreigners, and a sense of that justice, mercy and good-will which is due to all. . . . See this often inculcated in Marc. Antonin.”31
Again, in A System of Moral Philosophy, Hutcheson drew upon the work of Marcus to explain the meaning of true piety, as he understood it. True piety was not to be found in the asceticism of the early Christians nor in the perpetuation of their “melancholy notions of sanctity” in the absurd provisions of the canon law: “piety is never more sincere and lively than when it engages men in all social and kind offices to others, out of a sense of duty to God: and just philosophy, as well as religion, could teach that true devotion, tranquility, resignation, and recollection too, may be practiced even in a court or camp, as well as in a wilderness. . . . See Marc Antonin in a variety of passages.”32 In this connection it may be recalled that Hutcheson was also diffident about revealing his authorship of the System; it was circulated only privately in his lifetime.
The Significance of the Annotations
How should we understand the significance of Hutcheson’s notes to the text? Hutcheson’s notes typically provide short explanatory discourses or exegeses of the ideas of the Stoics. It is remarkable that the same notes also illuminate Hutcheson’s own moral philosophy. This will become evident as we consider his treatment in The Meditations of Stoic theories of human nature, the rational soul, the law, the citizen, God, and divine providence.
A central theme of Hutcheson’s moral philosophy, from the earliest to the last of his publications, had been that human nature is so constituted that mankind is naturally sociable. This theme was the subject of his inaugural lecture following his appointment as Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.33 It was also the professed position of the Stoics, or so Hutcheson reminds the reader of The Meditations: “The Stoics always maintained, that by the very constitution of our nature, all men are recommended to the affectionate good-will of all: which would always appear, were it not for the interfering of falsely imagined interests” (bk. III, art. 5, p. 42, note). In a passage of the text where Marcus writes of “the peculiar structure and furniture of human nature,” Hutcheson notes: “This, as it was often mentioned already, is such as both recommends to us all pious veneration and submission to God, and all social affections; and makes such dispositions our chief satisfaction and happiness” (bk. XI, art. 5, p. 134, note).
Hutcheson had maintained, in his inaugural lecture and elsewhere in his writings, that it is the presence of kind affections, a natural desire to perform good offices for others, public spirit—benevolence, in a word—that disposes us to be naturally sociable. He was at pains to remind readers, in An Essay and in A System of Moral Philosophy, that the Stoics, “the avowed enemies of the passions,” had made provision for the passions and affections, for desire and aversion, joy and sorrow.34 But the Stoics had also recognized that the lower passions, the appetites of the body, desires for external things, must be subordinated to the more noble desires, the kind affections, etc.35 Hutcheson found a similar ordering of the passions and affections in the thought of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus had reminded himself not to be misled by the passions: “suffer not that noble part to be enslaved, or moved about by unsociable passions, without its own approbation” (bk. II, art. 2, p. 34).
Hutcheson noted that Marcus was employing “a metaphor from puppets, mov’d by others. Such are men when led by their passions against what their higher faculties incline to and recommend.” Marcus invoked the puppet metaphor later in the text (bk. X, art. 38, p. 132; bk. XII, art. 19, p. 148). The “noble part” that must direct the passions and not be enslaved by them was, in Marcus’s mind, the intellect, the spark of divinity within us, the rational soul. “Won’t you, at last, perceive, that you have something more excellent and divine within you, than that which raises the several passions, and moves you, as the wires do a puppet, without your own approbation? What now is my intellectual part? Is it fear? Is it suspicion? Is it lust? Is it any such thing?” (bk. XII, art. 19, p. 148).
The intellect or the soul was “the governing part,” the hegemonikon. Hutcheson, too, recognized that there was a governing part in human nature, which he called diversely the moral faculty or conscience but most often the moral sense. Hutcheson discovered this “governing part” in “the heart.” And he understood “the heart” to be the moral and spiritual equivalent of “the rational soul.”
Hutcheson had been critical in his earlier writings, notably in Illustrations on the Moral Sense, of contemporary rationalists who attempted to discover moral good and evil in the relations of things (Clarke), in truth (Wollaston), or in a notion of absolute and infinite perfection (Burnet, Balguy). These efforts were misdirected; they failed to focus upon the only quality in human nature that could properly be considered good: benevolence or kind affection.36 There were other rationalists who recognized the fundamental importance of benevolence and sociability in the general scheme of things (Cumberland, Pufendorf), but the reasoning required by these “metaphysicians” was beyond the abilities of many who were undoubtedly virtuous or capable of virtue and goodness.37
The Stoic conception of reason and the rational soul was not subject to those objections: it was a faculty capable of immediate perception of virtue and vice, moral good and evil. Hutcheson provided the following note to a reference by Marcus to “that divinity which is within us”: “Thus the Stoics call the rational soul, the seat of knowledge and virtue: deeming it a part of the divinity, ever pervaded, attracted, and inspired by it to all moral good, when the lower passions are restrained” (bk. II, art. 13, p. 37, note). The rational soul was conceived by “the Stoics, after Plato . . . to be a being or substance distinct both from the gross body, and the animal soul, in which are the sensations, lower appetites and passions” (bk. V, art. 19, p. 65, note).
This article and note are cited elsewhere (e.g., at bk. VII, art. 28, p. 87, and bk. VII, art. 55, p. 90). The rational soul so conceived was the faculty that distinguished virtue and vice, perceived moral good and evil: considered in this light, “the rational soul” was synonymous with “the heart”: “they [the Stoics], and the Platonists too, . . . endeavoured to make virtue eligible, from the very feelings of the heart, . . . ” (bk. VI, art. 24, pp. 75–76, the daggered note). Also, “the most important practical truths are found out by attending to the inward calm sentiments or feelings of the heart: And this constitution of heart or soul is certainly the work of God, who created and still pervades all things; . . . ” (bk. XI, art. 12, p. 137, the double-daggered note).
Now the Stoics, Marcus Aurelius among them, maintained that there is a law of nature and that this law is known by reason, the intellect, the rational soul. Hutcheson had maintained, in the Inquiry and elsewhere, that the perception of moral distinctions, of virtue and vice, of rights of various kinds, did not depend upon a law.38 But in a note on The Meditations, Hutcheson acknowledged that human beings are governed by a law of nature: “all intelligent beings are, by their nature, under the same immutable eternal law of promoting the good and perfection of the whole. This, in the supreme Being, flows essentially from his nature: in created beings, it is a gift from him” (bk. VIII, art. 2, p. 95, note). Moor, too, in his notes on books IX and X refers to the “law of our nature; entire resignation to the will of God in all events, and kind affections to our fellows” (bk. IX, art. 10, p. 110, the double-daggered note); and, at bk. X, art. 13, p. 125, note, Moor refers to the “grand law of promoting the perfection of the whole, obedience to which is the supreme happiness.” In Hutcheson’s mind, how we come to know the law of nature is not problematic: it is quite simply “the law of God written in the heart.”
It may be remembered here once for all, the life according to nature, in Antoninus, is taken in a very high sense: ’Tis living up to that standard of purity and perfection, which every good man feels in his own breast: ’Tis conforming our selves to the law of God written in the heart: ’Tis endeavouring a compleat victory over the passions, and a total conformity to the image of God. A man must read Antoninus with little attention, who confounds this with the natural man’s life, condemned by St. Paul. (bk. VII, art. 56, p. 91, note)
The law of nature is the law of God; indeed, according to Marcus, the law is God. In bk. X, art. 25, p. 127, he wrote of “these things which are ordered by him who governs all: Who is the law, appointing to every one what is proper for him.” Moor noted that “this passage clears up many others where the same word occurs obscurely. See, [bk.] VII. [art.] 31.” He also referred the reader to “the book de Mundo, which goes under Aristotle’s name; chap. 6. ‘For our law, exactly impartial to all, is God.’ ” Hutcheson agreed (bk. XI, art. 1, p. 133, note; bk. XII, art. 1, p. 144, note). But Hutcheson had earlier observed that God is also present in every human being: “such is the divine goodness that he is ever ready to communicate his goodness and mercy, in the renovation of the heart, and in forming in it all holy affections, and just apprehensions of himself, to all minds which by earnest desires are seeking after him” (bk. VIII, art. 54, p. 105, note). Hutcheson was employing the scholastic language of the communicable attributes of the deity: that God communicates to or shares with human beings some but not all of the attributes of divinity. He was also contending that the notion that God is present in the heart or soul of everyone who, “by earnest desires,” is “seeking after him” is consistent with the Stoic idea that there is a part of God, a spark of the divine fire, that is present in every human being.
Everyone, Marcus declared, “who flies from his master is a fugitive-slave. Now, the law is our master; and so the transgressor of the law is the fugitive” (bk. X, art. 25, p. 127). Marcus also described all who live under the law that is common to all rational beings as fellow citizens of the universe or the world. “We are all fellow-citizens: and if so, we have a common city. The universe, then, must be that city; for of what other common city are all men citizens?” (bk. IV, art. 4, pp. 48–49). Hutcheson endorsed this idea of citizenship and expanded upon its implications for the relationship that should pertain between the citizens of the universe and its ruler:
This city is the universe. A mind entirely conformed and resigned to God, the great governour of this city, and persuaded of his wisdom, power, and goodness, cannot imagine any event to be hurtful to the universe; and when it is united in will with God, it must acquiesce in all that happens, and can make all events good to itself, as they are occasions of exerting the noblest virtues, which are its supreme good. (bk. V, art. 22, pp. 65–66, note)
Marcus and Hutcheson were in basic agreement concerning the obligations, the sense of duty, or devotion, the piety that should govern relations between citizens and their ruler in the city of God. Marcus had written: “Love and desire that alone which happens to you, and is destined by providence for you; for, what can be more suitable?” (bk. VII, art. 57, p. 91). Hutcheson endorsed this maxim unreservedly:
For, a man who desires only what God destines him, can never be disappointed; since infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, must always accomplish its designs; and, as he loves all his works, every event ordered by him, must be really best for the whole, and for the individuals to which it happens: An intimate and permanent conviction of this, must be the best foundation for the practice of the maxim here recommended. (bk. VII, art. 57, p. 91, note)
Hutcheson’s enthusiastic acceptance of Marcus Aurelius’s conception of divine providence is consistent with the views expressed in A System, A Short Introduction, and in “A Synopsis of Metaphysics,” part III. Hutcheson had not replaced the Stoic doctrine of fate or predestination with benevolence. He thought rather that acting in a manner consistent with the divine plan was the most effective way to promote benevolence. He considered it “an amiable notion of providence, that it has ordered for every good man that station of life, and those circumstances, which infinite wisdom foresaw were fittest for his solid improvement in virtue, according to that original disposition of nature which God had given him” (bk. XI, art. 7, p. 135, note).
One may see in the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius and Hutcheson’s enthusiastic endorsement of it the possibility of a benign redescription of the predestinarian doctrine of Calvinists and the Presbyterian or Reformed Church. The crucial difference between Hutcheson and more orthodox Calvinists did not turn on predestination: it was rather that Hutcheson, unlike Calvin (and St. Augustine and St. Paul), did not think that mankind was naturally sinful. He thought that mankind was naturally kind, benevolent, good. In his inaugural lecture, he had placed particular emphasis on the state of innocence, which Reformed theologians attributed only to Adam and Eve before the Fall. In Hutcheson’s mind, this “original disposition of nature” applied to every human being. Insofar as men were presently to be found in a condition of sinfulness and depravity, it was as a result of bad education, confused imaginations, the pursuit of external things, property and riches, love of fame: these were the dispositions, the passions which were productive of moral evil. Marcus had written: “Look inwards; within is the fountain of good; which is ever springing up, if you be always digging in it” (bk. VII, art. 59, p. 91). Hutcheson considered this excellent advice. “The author of this advice, had the best opportunities of trying all the happiness which can arise from external things. The dissipating pursuits of external things, stupify the nobler powers. By recollection we find the dignity of our nature: the diviner powers are disentangled, and exert themselves in all worthy social affections of piety and humanity; and the soul has an inexpressible delight in them” (bk. VII, art. 59, p. 91, note).
Hutcheson and Christianity
It is clear then that Hutcheson was refashioning Christian doctrine, notably the Presbyterian or Reformed doctrine of original sin, by substituting for it a particular variant of Stoicism, the version represented in The Meditations, in which the original or natural constitution of human nature contains something divine within: a heart or a soul that is oriented toward affection for others, good offices, benevolence. Was it a view consistent with the life and teachings of Christ? Hutcheson and Moor clearly thought so. They celebrated again and again in their notes the exhortation of Christ to his followers to return good for evil. They were also observing, however, in every case, that Marcus had given the same advice to himself and to anyone who might read his Meditations. Moor also perceived in Marcus’s pleas that we should attempt to imitate the gods “the same with the grand Christian doctrine of the divine life” (bk. X, art. 8, p. 123, note). Hutcheson thought that Marcus’s reference to his own “publick service to the Gods” expressed “the same divine sentiment with the Apostle; that whatever we do in word or deed, we should do it as to God” (bk. V, art. 31, p. 68, the asterisked note).
Hutcheson and Moor were pleased to discover in the teachings of Christ expressions of kindness, forgiveness, service to God, piety properly understood as service to God and mankind in general. Their references to the writers of the New Testament typically provide confirmation and endorsement of the Stoic morality of Marcus and Epictetus. They were also pleased to enclose “Gataker’s Apology,” which similarly discovered an equivalence between the ethical teachings of Christ and the reflections of Marcus Aurelius: “All these same precepts [of Christ] are to be found in Antoninus, just as if he had habitually read them” (“Gataker’s Apology,” below, p. 162).
At the same time, there is much that Hutcheson found objectionable in the doctrines and in the conduct of Christians. He was unimpressed by the Christian doctrine of repentance after vice. “A continued innocence of manners is preferable to even the most thorough repentance after gross vices. . . . To this refer many thoughts in the former books, about the advantage of ‘being always straight and upright, rather than one rectified and amended’ ” (bk. XI, art. 8, p. 136, note). He was pointedly critical of what he took to be the desire for martyrdom among the early Christians: “It is well known that their ardour for the glory of martyrdom was frequently immoderate; and was censured even by some of the primitive fathers.” He goes on to make an apology for their weakness. Christianity could not have been expected to “extirpate all sort of human frailty. And there is something so noble in the stedfast lively faith, and the stable persuasion of a future state, which must have supported this ardour, that it makes a sufficient apology for this weakness, and gives the strongest confirmation of the divine power accompanying the Gospel” (bk. XI, art. 3, p. 134, note).
Hutcheson’s most scathing criticisms of Christian practice appear in the closing paragraphs of his “Life of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus.” There is no counterpart to these pages (pp. 18–23) in the larger “Life” by André Dacier. Here Hutcheson retorted upon Christians the charge against Antoninus that he had been guilty of persecuting Christians:
Let none make this objection to Antoninus, but those, who, from their hearts, abhor all Christian persecutions, who cannot hate their neighbours, or deem them excluded from the divine favour, either for neglecting certain ceremonies, and pieces of outward pageantry, or for exceeding in them; for different opinions, or forms of words, about some metaphysical attributes or modes of existence, which all sides own to be quite incomprehensible by us; for the different opinions about human liberty; about which the best men who ever lived have had opposite sentiments: for different opinions about the manner in which the Deity may think fit to exercise his mercy to a guilty world, either in pardoning of their sins, or renewing them in piety and virtue. (p. 21)
The number of churchmen and churches who are included in this indictment of Christian practices and Christian dogmas would appear to be very extensive indeed: ecclesiastics who insist on rituals and pageantry and dissenters who oppose them; scholastics of all denominations who insist on their understanding of the divine attributes, even though one of those attributes of God was widely deemed to be his incomprehensibility; those philosophers who quibble about liberty and predestination and, most seriously, those who would consign their neighbors to eternal damnation for failure to subscribe to the correct dogma concerning sin and redemption. But it was particularly the dogmas and practices of the Church of Scotland, as Hutcheson knew it from direct acquaintance, in its churches and in its universities that appear to have been foremost in his mind as he penned his concluding peroration: “Christians may be ashamed to censure our author on this account; considering how rashly, arrogantly, and presumptuously, they are cursing one another in their synodical anathemas; and in their creeds, pronouncing eternal damnation on all who are not within the pale, or hold not the same mysterious tenets or forms of words” (p. 22).
The concluding paragraphs of Hutcheson’s “Life of the Emperor” may be the finest illustration in his writings of his ability to turn his eloquence, usually expended upon extolling the virtues and the goodness of human nature, against ideas and practices to which he was deeply and passionately opposed. Given the force and the directness of his indictment, it is indeed understandable that he should have taken pains to ensure, as he told Thomas Drennan, that he would not allow “his name to appear in it.”
The Meditations in the Scottish Enlightenment
It has been said of Hutcheson and Moor’s edition of The Meditations that its influence in the Scottish Enlightenment was both great and lasting: “Its educational influence can be judged from the fact that it was reissued three times after his death and that devotion to Marcus became a badge of Hutcheson’s followers.”39 David Fordyce (1711–51), a regent, or teacher, of philosophy at Marischal College in Aberdeen, wrote in his Dialogues Concerning Education (1745, 1748) a glowing description of Marcus Aurelius as a philosopher, “whose Principles are so sublime, and his Maxims of Virtue so stupendously great and commanding, that no Man can enter into his Soliloquies without becoming a greater and better Man, a Creature more elevated above the World, and more enlarged in his Affections to Human-kind, and the Whole of Things.”40
It is understandable that The Meditations, particularly the manner in which Marcus’s thinking had been represented and interpreted by Hutcheson, should have come under forceful criticism from Scots Presbyterians who adhered to a more orthodox, anti-Moderate position in theology and philosophy. John Witherspoon wrote a satirical critique of those who preferred The Meditations to the Westminster Confession of Faith: “let religion be constantly and uniformly called Virtue, and let the Heathen philosophers be set up as the great patterns and promoters of it,” particularly Marcus Aurelius, “because an eminent person, of the moderate character, says, his Meditations is the best book that ever was written for forming the heart.”41 Witherspoon’s satire on all this in Ecclesiastical Characteristics (1753, reissued four times in the next ten years) includes “The Athenian Creed”: “I believe in the divinity of L. S[haftesbury], the saintship of Marcus Antoninus, the perspicuity and sublimity of A[kensid]e [?], and the perpetual duration of Mr. H[utcheso]n’s works, notwithstanding their present tendency to oblivion.”42
But criticism of Marcus Aurelius and the kind of Stoicism represented by The Meditations, in the form in which it had been cast by Hutcheson, was not confined to the theologically orthodox. Hume’s depiction of “The Stoic” (1742) was not a description of an ascetic philosopher obsessed by the importance of extinguishing all passion and affection. Hume’s Stoic was a “man of action and virtue” like Marcus and Hutcheson.43 Hume’s Platonist (1742) was critical of the Stoic for claiming (like Cato, in Lucan’s Pharsalia, invoked by Hutcheson) to have a God within him: “Thou art thyself thy own idol,” the Platonist complained.44 Hume was reluctant to grant Marcus the title of theist. He was, like all the other Stoics (except for Panaetius, on whose work Cicero’s Offices was modeled), a believer in lesser gods, in auguries and divinations.45
Adam Smith devoted several paragraphs to the Stoic system of Marcus in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith identified two basic paradoxes of the Stoics: one, contempt for life and death and complete submission to the order of providence, which Smith found in the fragmentary writings of “the independent and spirited, but often harsh Epictetus”; the second paradox he traced to “the mild, the humane, the benevolent Antoninus.” The latter was the paradoxical position that whatever befalls us in life, however painful, appalling, catastrophic, should be regarded as part of the divine plan and should be embraced; whoever wishes otherwise, he declared, “wishes, so far as in him lies, to stop the motion of the universe, . . . and, for some little convenience of his own, to disorder and discompose the whole machine of the world.” This second paradox, the paradox of Antoninus, Smith considered “too absurd to deserve any serious consideration. It is, indeed, so very absurd that one can scarce help suspecting that it must have been in some measure misunderstood or misrepresented.”46
In contrast with David Hume and Adam Smith, their friends William Robertson and Hugh Blair found in Marcus Aurelius’s and Hutcheson’s ideas of virtue and divine providence an early and, in Blair’s case, an abiding source of inspiration. Robertson had begun his own translation of The Meditations in the early 1740s. He had completed his translation, from the Greek, up to book VIII; then he abandoned it when Hutcheson and Moor’s translation was published.47 In a thesis published in Edinburgh in 1739,48 Blair had endorsed an understanding of the law of nature based upon the moral sense and the benevolence of human nature. He wrote a generous, not uncritical, review of Hutcheson’s System of Moral Philosophy in 1755.49 In his Sermons, Blair adumbrated and echoed the main themes of Hutcheson’s notes to The Meditations: the union of piety and morality, the divine government of the passions, the mixture of bad men with the good in human society, and the compassion and beneficence of the deity.50
Hutcheson’s translation and edition of The Meditations are important, finally, for the light they shed on Hutcheson’s other works on moral philosophy. In them we find one of the most forceful statements of one of his most central themes, that “our sole good is in our actions and affections.” One may also return to his other works with a deeper understanding of his theory of the soul and the manner in which the rational soul is understood to be synonymous with the heart. Indeed, it may not be fanciful to see in Hutcheson’s introduction and notes a way of understanding Presbyterianism, perhaps Calvinism itself, as a religion of kind affection, of public spirit and benevolence, a religion of social virtue for men and women of an enlightened age.50
[1. ]The Meditations were reprinted in Glasgow by Robert and Andrew Foulis in 1749 (2nd ed.), 1752 (3rd ed.), and 1764 (4th ed.). Another “4th ed.” was printed in Dublin for Robert Main in 1752.
[2. ] Robert Foulis (1707–76) was appointed printer to the University of Glasgow in 1743. In partnership with his brother Andrew, he was responsible for the publication of many attractive and accurate editions of classical texts.
[3. ] James Moor (1712–79) was appointed university librarian of the University of Glasgow in 1742 and professor of Greek in 1746. He edited many of the classical texts published by Robert and Andrew Foulis. Robert Foulis married Moor’s sister Elizabeth in September 1742. Moor and the Foulis brothers witnessed Hutcheson’s will on June 30, 1746.
[4. ] Letter of Francis Hutcheson to the Reverend Mr. Thomas Drennan in Belfast, Glasgow, May 31, 1742. MS: Glasgow University Library, MS Gen 1018 no. 11.
[5. ] Duncan, Notices and Documents, 49.
[6. ] Scott, Francis Hutcheson, 144; Hutcheson, On Human Nature, 176.
[7. ] Bodleian Library, Oxford, Vet A4 f. 505 (9). See Stephen, “Francis Hutcheson and the Early History of the Foulis Press,” 213–14. The editors are grateful to Dr. Daniel Carey for bringing this item to their attention.
[8. ]Marcus Aurelius Antoninus the Roman Emperor, His Meditations Concerning Himselfe.
[9. ]The Emperor Marcus Antoninus His Conversation with Himself.
[10. ]Markou Antoninou tou Autokratoros tōn eis heauton biblia 12 (1652).
[11. ]The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus, ed. Farquharson, xlvi, xlix.
[12. ]Markou Antoninou tou Autokratoros tōn eis heauton biblia 12 (1697).
[13. ] In Jeremy Collier’s English translation (1726 ed., pp. 1–30) the title of Gataker’s “Praeloquium” reads: “Gataker’s Preliminary Discourse, In which the Principles of the Stoics are compared with the Peripateticks, with the Old Academicks, and more especially, the Epicurean Sect: The remaining Writings likewise of the Stoick Philosophers, Seneca, Epictetus, and particularly those of our Emperour Marcus Antoninus, are briefly examined.”
[14. ]Markou Antoninou tou Autokratoros tōn eis heauton biblia 12 (1704).
[15. ]Markou Antoninou tou Autokratoros tōn eis heauton biblia 12 (1744).
[16. ] See Moore and Silverthorne, “Hutcheson’s LLD,” 10–12.
[17. ] Hadot, The Inner Citadel, 52, discusses the significance of these technical terms in the vocabulary of the Stoics.
[18. ] See n11, above.
[19. ]The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus, ed. Farquharson, vol. 1, p. 21.
[20. ] Shaftesbury, “Sensus Communis, an Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour,” in Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, 48–49, n19.
[21. ] Ibid., 48.
[22. ] Ibid., 52.
[23. ] Shaftesbury, “Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author,” in Characteristics, 113.
[24. ] Shaftesbury, “Miscellany IV, Chapter I,” in Characteristics, 423.
[25. ] More’s Enchiridion ethicum (1667) was translated in 1690 as An Account of Virtue: or, Dr. Henry More’s Abridgment of Morals.
[26. ] More, An Account of Virtue, II.5.VII, p. 120.
[27. ] Ibid., I.2.VII, p. 95.
[28. ] Ibid., II.8.XVI, p. 143.
[29. ] Ibid., I.3.VII, p. 17.
[30. ]An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, sec. 2, art. 5, p. 44 (1728 ed.) or p. 40 (2002 ed.).
[31. ]A System of Moral Philosophy, I.5.VII, vol. I, pp. 93–94.
[32. ] Ibid., III.1.XII, vol. II, p. 182.
[33. ] “On the Natural Sociability of Mankind,” in Logic, Metaphysics, and the Natural Sociability of Mankind.
[34. ]An Essay (1728), sec. III, pp. 58–59, or pp. 49–50 (2002); A System I.1.V, vol. I, p. 8.
[35. ]A System I.4.VI, vol. I, p. 61.
[36. ]Illustrations on the Moral Sense, secs. I, II, III.
[37. ] Hutcheson, Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725; 2004 ed.), sec. I, art. IV, p. 94.
[38. ]Inquiry, sec. VII, pp. 176ff. (2004 ed.).
[39. ] Rivers, Reason, Grace, and Sentiment, vol. 2, p. 160. The term badge seems particularly apposite in this connection, inasmuch as it indicates a connection between the systems of Hutcheson and Marcus that was rarely made explicit by Hutcheson’s followers or by his critics. The reason seems clear: Hutcheson and Moor and the Foulises were careful to preserve the anonymity of the translators and editors of the Glasgow edition of The Meditations. Even the Glasgow translator of Hutcheson’s A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy (Glasgow, 1747, p. 69) referred to chapter numbers in The Meditations (I, 17 and IX, 48) that do not appear in the Hutcheson-Moor translation, although these chapter numbers do appear in Gataker’s Latin translation, also published by the Foulis Press in 1744. See also note 47, below.
[40. ] Fordyce, Dialogues Concerning Education, II, pp. 340–41, and see Rivers, Reason, Grace, and Sentiment, vol. II, pp. 181–84.
[41. ] See Riversa, Reason, Grace, and Sentiment, vol. 2, pp. 188–89.
[42. ] Ibid., p. 189.
[43. ] Hume, “The Stoic,” in The Philosophical Works, vol. III, p. 209: “In the true sage and patriot are united whatever can distinguish human nature, or elevate mortal man to a resemblance with the divinity. The softest benevolence, the most undaunted resolution, the tenderest sentiments, the most sublime love of virtue, all these animate successively his transported bosom. What satisfaction, when he looks within.”
[44. ] Hume, “The Platonist,” in The Philosophical Works, vol. III, p. 212.
[45. ] Hume, “Natural History of Religion,” The Philosophical Works, vol. IV, p. 350: “Marcus Antoninus tells us that he himself had many admonitions from the gods in his sleep.”
[46. ] Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, VII.2.1, pp. 288–91 (1982 ed.). This summary dismissal of The Meditations is taken from the 6th ed. published in 1790. In earlier editions (from the 2nd ed. published in 1761 to the 5th published in 1784) Smith had concluded his discussion of the Stoics on a more positive note: “Such was the philosophy of the stoics. A philosophy which affords the noblest lessons of magnanimity, is the best school of heroes and patriots, and to the greater part of whose precepts there can be no other objection, except that they teach us to aim at a perfection altogether beyond the reach of human nature” (Theory of Moral Sentiments, I.iii.2, p. 60n).
[47. ] Untitled manuscripts: National Library of Scotland MSS 3955 and 3979. Dugald Stewart reported that Robertson had been preparing his own translation of The Meditations “when he was anticipated by an anonymous publication at Glasgow.” “Account of the Life and Writings of William Robertson, D.D.,” p. 106. See also Sher, Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment, pp. 30 and 181.
[48. ]Dissertatio philosophica inauguralis de fundamentis et obligatione legis naturae.
[49. ] “Hutcheson’s Moral Philosophy,” pp. 9–23. The review concludes: “His philosophy tends to inspire generous sentiments and amiable views of human nature. It is particularly calculated to promote the social and friendly affections; and we cannot but agree with the author of the preface, that it has the air of being dictated by the heart, no less than the head.”
[50. ] Blair, Sermons.
[50. ] The Hutcheson-Moor translation of Marcus Aurelius was reprinted a number of times and retained its reputation into the twentieth century. A late Victorian translator of Marcus, Gerald H. Rendall, described it as “the choicest alike in form and contents” (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus to Himself, p. iii); and C. R. Haines, the Loeb translator, in a review of English translations, declared it to be “certainly the best translation previous to Long’s, for accuracy and diction, and superior to that in spirit” (The Communings with Himself of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, p. xviii; his reference is to The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, translated by George Long, 1862).