18th Century British Moral Philosophy
- Subject Area: Philosophy
Source: Introduction by Lewis Amherst Selby-Bigge in British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, edited with an Introduction and analytical Index by L.A. Shelby-Bigge in two volumes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897). Vol. 1.
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The moralist and the satirist are not always suited to understand each other. The moralist seems to the satirist to discourse of a state of things which is not and never was, and to assume the prevalence of motives which never entirely determine and do not considerably influence the actions of ordinary men. When the morahst says that men ought to regulate their conduct on certain principles and ought to cultivate certain motives in preference to others, the satirist tests the possibility of these principles, by asking whether in fact men do usually or ever act on them: he does not ask how far men recognize them as ideals or standards of conduct. It is enough for the satirist that men do not practise what they preach, and the significance of the preaching itself does not concern him. Satire stops short of philosophy, even of sceptical philosophy.
On the other hand, the moralist is apt to regard the satirist less as scourging the unworthy than as denying the existence of worth altogether and dissolving morality into nothing at all, or replacing it by something which is positively immoral. In reality, the whole force of satire, as distinguished from cynicism, is the force of contrast—between profession and practice, between reality and sham; and the denunciation of the sham is by implication the recognition of the reality. The temper of the satirist is very different from that of the sceptic and generally distinguishable from that of the cynic. He is content to show that what men flatter themselves is moral conduct, is generally immoral conduct when judged by the standard which those men profess. He does not discuss the origin or meaning of that standard itself, the recognition of which is implied in his exposure of the counterfeit. 'Nos vertus ne sont le plus souvent que des vices d৩guis৩s,' and 'private vices public benefits 'are phrases which, on the face of them, testify to the possible or ideal existence of morality, and the assertion of general immorality, offensive and inconvenient as it may be to the moralist in some respects, is not half so dangerous to his position as the reduction of the moral to the non-moral, which is the way of the sceptic.
The ‘selfish’ theories of satire and scepticism.
Much of the moral philosophy of the eighteenth century, even when it is hedonistic, may be regarded as a revolt against the selfish theory. It is therefore of some importance to distinguish between the selfish theory of the satirist, which claims to be nothing more than the product of an empirical study of human nature and social institutions as they exist at the present time, and the selfish theory of the sceptical philosopher, which rests upon an analysis of the primitive constituents of human nature and society, or a theory of the ultimate nature of desire or volition. It is indeed not always easy to distinguish the satirist from the cynic, or the cynic from the sceptic. The satirist sometimes drops the whip and throws mud, or allows his contempt for the actual to blind him to the ideal from which he started, and so degenerates into the cynic who is absorbed in a gloomy disgust of things as they are, missing both the serenity of the negative sceptic and the intellectual interest of the scientific sceptic, who finds it pleasant to note the sequence of appearances and register the shadows on the wall of his cave. Philosophers also sometimes take an unphilosophic pleasure in emphasizing the mean beginnings of things, and the respectable man, intolerant of the libels on human nature which are the common result of very different principles, classes all the libellers together, and so makes an ineffective reply.
Against the satirist and the cynic, whether of the court, the coffee house, or the tavern, it is legitimate to appeal to the plain man's experience of disinterested benevolent affections, which to him feel quite different from the products of calculating selfishness and are distinguishded from such in his judgements of others. It is also very legitimate to urge that a fair interpretation of social institutions reveals elements in human nature which are not, proximately at all events, derivable from the individual's desire of private pleasure. It is further proper to point out that such an assertion as that moral virtue is 'the political offspring which flattery begot upon pride' may be true of some men and some virtue, but if asserted of all men and all virtue becomes literally preposterous; and, lastly, it is more profitable to take with the satirist than with the sceptic the 'short way' of pointing out that in his very denim he asserts or assumes what he denies.
But against the selfish theory of the empirical sceptic it is vain to allege a counter-experience of unselfishness. For on the one hand the sceptic does not deny the universality of the illusion of unselfishness or cavil at the genuineness of the plain man's testimony to his own feelings; he does not pretend that a superficial reflection on human nature is sufficient to expose its secret springs; but, on the other hand, he professes to trace the illusion itself to its origin in the operation of forces which are entirely selfish.
The satiric criticism of morals.
It is hard therefore to be fair to the 'benevolent' theory which figures so largely in this period unless we appreciate the irritation and alarm caused to sober moralists by the cynicism of Hobbes and the satire of Rochefoucauld, Mandeville, and the tribe of dull imitators, such as James Esprit, and Sir Richard Blackmore. It must be remembered that the first half of the eighteenth century was a period when the authority of the Church was weak, when the wantonness of the Restoration had given place to a dull lewdness in high places; when the materializing influences of prosperity and wealth were strong, and spiritual ideals were smothered under respectability. In such an age, and from a practical point of view, the satirist and his wit, especially when it takes the form of paradox, are sometimes more dangerous to morality than the sceptic and his malice. The respectable person finds that when his cloak of smug pretence is stripped off he is no more naked than the statesman or divine, and sees no reason why he should be better clothed than such good company, while the disreputable person takes credit to himself for his superior frankness. The morahst therefore who takes more than a speculative interest in good conduct, may well be excused if he does not penetrate the disguise which conceals, from him the blessings of a Mandeville.
Mandeville is certainly not an innocent writer, but he has been considerably misunderstood both by his contemporaries and by modern critics. His business is the exposure of humbug and hypocrisy, and he does his work consistently and thoroughly, though he dips his pen in a very nasty mixture and carefully poses as a very disreputable person. His taste is as abominable as his style is effective. The essentially satirical character of his work is however concealed by his constant indulgence in paradox, a method which enables him to give a maximum of offence, while keeping in the background a few unexceptionable principles to which he can appeal in case of need. It does not need much penetration to see that when he is maintaining the odious thesis of 'private vices public benefits,' he is really concerned to argue the converse, viz. that persons lauded as public benefactors often show small regard for the Christian code of morals which they profess, and no regard at all for the public interest for the promotion of which they take credit; that material progress by no means imphes equivalent spiritual advance. So the panegyric of prodigality is a vehicle for an assault upon the complacent cant which sees in the accumulation of private wealth the height of social virtue. But these are perpetual topics of the pulpit, and we may apply to this case a remark made long ago, and say that it is a mark of àna§evóía to require speculative validity and completeness as well as practical value in such exercises as sermons or satires. From the practical point of view it may have been desirable that Wilham Law should undertake a serious refutation of Mande-ville's paradoxes, but in truth if any one takes them seriously and literally nothing but a stick will do him much good 1.
Regarding Mandeville as a satirist, I see no reason to suppose, as some have supposed, that his introduction of 'self-sacrifice' as the touchstone of merit was meant by him as a backhanded attack upon ascetic and theological ethics. It is so essential to his theory and is introduced with such aptitude that I do not think he meant or indeed could afford to play a double game with it. The private character of the satirist may lead us to suppose that his real regard for the principle was small, but it is no argument of theoretical insincerity in its use. His treatment of luxury does not stand on this footing but is evidently ironical, and finds a close parallel in the second book of Plato's Republic.
Mandeville's political theory of virtue.
The name of Mandeville is particularly associated with the 'political' theory of the virtues, as originating in the 'artifice of politicians,' which represents Hobbism in its most artificial and least important form. It has however its place in the scheme of his satire proper. For many of us morals are little else than 'manners,' and, whatever their meaning for the race, for the individual they are only too often conventional and artificial, and the satirist is quite within his right in letting us know it. But as a general theory of virtue it is only an impertinence, though it has been treated by minor moralists as the most important and dangerous part of his work. Hume's few words of dismissal are quite effectual (Treatise, pp. 500, 578), and it is certainly not worth while setting up against it a theory of 'eternal fitnesses,' which can in no way be represented as the necessary alternative to the political theory. If a more detailed refutation be thought necessary, With am Law has taken the right way with it, when he points out that you may as well ascribe man's erect position to the cunning flattery of politicians as his virtue; the action of the politician being limited in both cases to emphasizing pre-existent tendencies, and coming in as a modifying influence only at a very late stage. It is also worth considering whether much which is attributed to the operation of flattery on pride is not implied in their very existence. The fallacy of the preposterous has a wide range, but nowhere can a better instance of it be found than in the artificial theory of society.
General character of British moral philosophy.
I have dwelt at some length on the position of the satirist in morals because it is connected essentially as well as accidentally with what I believe to be the chief characteristic of the British school of moralists. I have already said that satire so far as it is an exposure of the sham rests upon and assumes a reality of some kind or other in virtue. The British moralists, whether sceptical or otherwise, ask, what is this reality? what is the meaning of the right and wrong, good and evil, to which the evil-liver pays the tribute of hypocrisy, that is, what does the ordinary man mean by them? The level of the plain man, and even the 'honest farmer,' is in the first instance adopted, not that of the saint in his cell nor that of the philosopher in his closet, and his experience is treated as supplying the material for further examination. Just as the satirist appeals to the intelligence of the plain man and is refuted by an appeal to his experience, so the moralists of this period start from the plain man and the common sense of plain men (afterwards to be elevated into the principle of a system) in their inquiry into the reality of virtue. They concentrate their attention on the phenomena of the normal moral consciousness in a cool and impartial manner which reminds us of Aristotle, and had not notably been exhibited since Aristotle. It is generally said that British ethics are psychological, and though that epithet is to be avoided on account of the controversies with which it is associated, it may fairly be said that the chief achievements of the eighteenth-century moralists were in the psychology of ethics. They thought seriously about the content (assuming that 'content' is a possible object of psychology) of plain men's moral judgements and their natural and legitimate implications, and there is perhaps no body of ethical writing which within its own sphere can compare for originality and sincerity with the work of this period. It was a work in which any one could take a hand, and though there is much in it which is trivial, tedious, and commonplace, there is singularly title which is merely technical or formal. There is always an effort, even on the part of the intellectualists, to bring a formula to the test of a concrete and homely instance1 , and a determination to write so as to be understood by anybody. Philosophy is no longer 'a self-centred speculation, an oracle of wisdom': it is ' brought down from inaccessible heights, and compelled to be intelligible,' and the public is umpire2 . The ease with which many of their fallacies are detected, and the simplicity of the confusions on which they rest, may tempt a casual reader to despise their intelligence. Experience of philosophy teaches, however, that it is the simplest confusions of thought which are the least suspected and which remain the longest undetected; that the expression of philosophic formulae in plain words is one of the most difficult things in the world, though never impossible, and that one of the most splendid qualities of the philosopher is to write so as to be easily found out if he is wrong. It is not a small thing that philosophy should be written in the vulgar tongue and should use the words of ordinary men.
The unmetaphysical character of the period.
That the moral philosophy of the eighteenth century should be somewhat narrow in scope is the natural consequence of its starting-point, the common moral consciousness, and its method. It is essentially inductive it collects the facts and then looks for a theory to explain them, and the collection of the facts is the chief thing. It has therefore little inclination to exhibit the theory of ethics as part of a general system of philosophy or as an appendix to a theory of knowledge. Even the question on which it came most nearly into contact with the theory of knowledge, the question whether moral perceptions originate in sense or in reason, was commonly treated with reference to little beyond its strictly ethical issues, and there are none of those attempts, which are characteristic of modern idealism, to argue backwards from practical to speculative principles. The horizon of Cudworth and Price is indeed wider, but Cudworth belonged to the seventeenth century, when the appeal was still to authority and philosophy was still a matter of large erudition, and Price was his disciple. It is true that Hume combined in his principal work a discussion of the foundations of science and morality, and that the fundamental hypothesis of the supremacy of sensation runs through both. But one cannot also help remarking how little support his moral theory receives from his speculative. It illustrates the same assumption, but it stands in all essentials on its own legs. It is very psychological and very little metaphysical. And if we compare the treatment of 'self' inv the praetical and speculative portions of Hume's work, we shall see that the two theories do not tally, a point in which, as in others, Hume was the forerunner of Kant. In Locke's essay, moral theory comes in at intervals in order to round off the discussion, and though "it certainly contains a great deal which is of great importance for the metaphysic of morals, it is distinctly episodical in character. Bishop Berkeley was a most metaphysical person with very interesting views on the relation of human and divine reason, which at once suggest to us consequences of the most vital importance for morals, but the ethical portions of his writings might, to all appearance, have been written by Paley. Whether anything of wider interest can be read into them by a careful student is another question1 . And Butler, the most typical of British moralists, will have nothing whatever to do with the metaphysics of his subject—whether the moral faculty be regarded as a 'sentiment' of the understanding or a 'perception of the heart,' or both, is for him a matter of small importance (§§ 244, cf. 188).
Distinction of the moral from the legal and theological provinces.
The moral philosophy of the period is therefore distinctly provincial, and 'home-made.' But there are compensations in its provinciality. That morals have a peculiar interest for the lawyer, the politician, and the divine needs no saying. In the development of the immense doctrine of the law of nature, the influence of the civilian and the statesman had been supreme. In its lengthy history the legal and political view of morals had been fairly exhausted. For the rest ethics had been in the hands of theologians, and though in dealing with ethics the spiritual elements of theology, even in its most spiritual periods, had a way of evaporating, leaving little more than a legal code tempered with reminiscences of Aristotle, still the theological point of view dominated everything excent the recalcitrant law of nature.
It is usual to trace the moralizing tendency of the eighteenth century to the decay of theology and the lessened authority of rehgious sanctions, and to represent the moral philosophy of that period as an attempt to find a substitute for rehglon as a barns of society and a guide of conduct1 . It was perhaps rather the emptiness and insufficiency of theological ethics in which sanctions were the chief interest, which set serious people upon original moral inquiries, rather than contempt for theology altogether. Theologians themselves showed no unreadiness to accept the position, and from this point of view the moralizing character of theology itself is inevitable rather than contemptible, and the period may more properly be regarded as a necessary stage in the evolution of theology than as one of degradation. It is not my purpose to enter into the question of the relations of religion and morahty. But it is hardIy necessary to point out the great gain both to theology and ethics which was likely to result, and has in fact resulted, from the independent investigation of moral phenomena from the specifically moral point of view. It has been said that 'those periods in which morals have been represented as the proper study of man and his only business, have been periods of spiritual abasement and poverty3 . But it would not be too much to say that the theological or religious revival of the present day, which is certainly not unspiritual, owes much of its richness and fullness to the labours of what is commonly stigmatized as a most unspiritual age. Whether in the last resort religion and morality merge, is a question which is not in any way prejudged when we congratulate our moralists on their emancipation from the theological tradition of their time. Their very narrowness certainly enabled them to do their work better, and in the result they produced for the use of future philosophers a mass of purely moral data which would have been both smaller and less pure if they had had the capacity or the inclination to consider their bearings on more general problems. The deduction of a moral category is an imposing undertaking, but whether that be possible or not, it is quite impossible to deduce the necessity of such a category from any consideration of the nature of things: for that we must go to experience, and it is because the philosophers of this period went there that the restoration of moral philosophy in the wider sense became possible for Kant and for us. And it is certainly impossible for us to understand Kant without some knowledge of his British predccessors.
The will of God as the source of moral distinctions.
I will not attempt to trace the various ways in which our writers attempted to regulate their position towards religion: this belongs mainly to the history of the deistical controversy, and partly also to that of the free-will controversy. But both the intellectual and sentimental schools were agreed that it was not the mere will of God which constituted the distinction between right and wrong, nor his power which constituted the obligation to goodness. The legislative theory of God's relation to moral law was decidedly rejected. To the intellectual school represented by Cudworth, S. Clarke, Price, and Balguy the eternal relations of things, dependent on their essences, to which 'moral relations' were traced, were at all events not merely an expression of God's will. Moral duties were deducible apart from revelation, though their revelation as God's wilt was a great assistance to weak man, and though secondarily, but not primarily, we may treat opposition to the natures of things as self-will or rebellion against God's will (§§ 525, 1032, 1053). To help themselves out of the theological difficulty caused by asserting the independence of morality on God, they employed the distinction between essence and existence, between the formal and efficient cause, between the will of God and his wisdom and goodness (§§ 813–14, 507, 828–29), and the' wisdom 'of God is of course a meeting-point of the metaphysics of rehgion and knowledge.
The sentimental school, on the other hand, represents our amiable, that is our moral affections, as analogous to God's, and our conscience, whether regarded as supplying an additional motive or constituting the obligation of virtue, as the voice of God within. That this explanation is not a final one is easily seen by the intellectual school, and they ask what then constitutes the goodness of God's own benevolence. The will to make man happy is in the last resort the essence of God's goodness for both schools (§§ 524, 112, 186–87, 243, cf. 376, 802, 864), though the intellectualist stands out for the antecedent 'fitness' of making the world happy (§§ 483, 528–29, 734). Happiness even for Butler is ultimately the only thing worth having (§§ 239, 240), and though it is foolish to think too much about happiness (§§ 231), and illegitimate to make the thought of future happiness the motive of our action, it is concluded, as Kant afterwards concluded, that the final coincidence between virtue and happiness can only be brought about by God's dispensation of rewards in a future he, and this coincidence is essential to their scheme of the universe, which without it would be immoral.
We may however notice the utilitarian objection to the 'divine legislator' theory of morals—that the will of God can only be ascertained by reference to happiness, which is the ultimate criterion (§§ 864), and what is more, by reference to happiness as we conceive it (§§ 376 n). We may also notice Cudworth's theory of the participation of created minds in the divine mind (§§ 838), which figures so largely in recent speculation, and which is peculiarly serviceable in correlating the practical and speculative1
Positive law and moral distinctions.
What was denied to the divine was not likely to be allowed to the human legislator. The political or legal theory may have something to say for itself as an explanation of obligation, but as an explanation of the distinction between right and wrong, between just and unjust, it is clearly preposterous; and even if the position is shifted from positive law to a compact antecedent to law, the necessity of moral distinctions antecedent to the compact is the same. Hume, who rejects the theory of an explicit social contract or promise, rests social institutions on an unspoken convention like that of the rowers in a boat to combine their efforts for a common end, or like that by which language is established. The obligation to justice is thus he the obligation of the members of a boat's crew to keep time (Treatise, p. 490). The question thus will be—does the inarticulate sense of common interest on which this convention rests imply anything more in man than can be derived from his accumulated experience of pleasure1 ?
The theory of Hobbes is effectively criticized, especially by the intellectualists (§§ 486, 514, 587, 672, 816), and they do not fail to point out his arbitrary and illegitimate use of the laws of nature (§§ 515). It is possible, however, to take Hobbes's moral theory too seriously and literally, and it is impossible to do him justice unless we make allowances for his object, which was far more political than philosophical. Adam Smith's remark (§§ 341) was not unnecessary, that Hobbes's intention was 'to subject the consciences of men immediately to the civil and not to the ecclesiastical powers, whose turbulence and ambition he had been taught by the example of his own times to regard as the principal source of the disorders of society.' There is much in Hobbes which is more dangerous to morality than his political theory, but this for the most part escaped the notice of his critics, who leave the foundation while they demolish the superstructure. There is on the other hand an obscurity in Hobbes's first principles, due largely to confusion of expression if not of thought, which renders him a bad starting-point. Much of the obscurity of Hume's treatment of justice seems due to a desire to follow Hobbes in asserting its artificiality, although he had rejected the ideas of the state of nature and social compact which alone made it plausible. (Hume, Treatise, p. 484, cf. Inquiry, p. 258.)
As to the acknowledged obligatoriness of civil laws, the sentimental school is willing to rest it either upon their object—the promotion of general happiness, in which we are all interested, or upon their sanctions, but Hutcheson and his followers do not lay much stress on obligation in any connexion. For the intellectualists, on the other hand, the obligatoriness of civil laws is the same as that of the moral law from which it is derived. In his distinctions between the will of the commander and the intellectual nature of him that is commanded (§§ 817), and between the formality and materiahty of an act of obedience (§ 820), Cudworth emphasized ideas of the greatest importance in the subsequent history of idealistic philosophy.
As to the nature and meaning of sanctions themselves, title is said by the sentimental school: they were thoroughly discredited as motives, and were not suspected of any other import than their obvious utility. Butler, however, with his keen sense of the significance of concrete social institutions, endeavoured to recover in his treatment of punishment that absolute distinction between the right and the useful, the authoritative and the merely persuasive, which he had lost in his co-ordination of conscience and cool self-love, on this point coming into agreement with the intellectuahsts (§§ 246, 658), and with Adam Smith in his anti-utilitarian mood (§§ 293, 302–4).
The law of nature.
The moralists of our period are not anxious to exhibit the laws of morals in relation to the' law of nature' as explained by Grotius, Puffendorff, and Cumberland. That law is the law of sociality, the law which primarily binds man to man in a society, and secondarily binds one society to another. Its commentators indeed did not confine themselves, as Hobbes did, to considerations of the intolerable nature of unsocial life; they dwelt upon the kindly social tendencies of human nature—' naturalis iuris mater est ipsa humana natura, quae nos, etiamsi re nulla lndigeremus, ad societatem mutuam appetendam ferret 1 . But in two respects it was disagreeable to the age—it rested to some extent upon authority, and that by no means the authority of the 'honest farmer,' and in its treatment of benevolence and the obligation to benevolence appealed frankly to self-interest. 'The endeavour to the utmost of our power of promoting the common good of the whole system of rational agents, conduces as far as in us lies to the good of every part, in which our own happiness, as that of a part, is contained,' and 'the greatest benevolence of every rational agent towards all, forms the happiest state of every and of all the benevolent 2 , are phrases which would appear likely to be acceptable enough to Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, the latter of whom in fact has to fall back on them for his explanation of 'obligation.' They are capable however of a use obnoxious to the 'disinterested 'theory, and also to the theory of spontaneous and immediate approbation (§§ 79, 107 186). As a fact we find Cumberland's translator, John Maxwell3 , submitting him to a severe criticism from the point of view of Shaftesbury as well as from the point of view of 'absolute' morality. There is in some ways more temptation for the intellectualists to adopt the 'law of nature,' in order to give content to the eternal, immutable, and necessary law to which they are committed, and of which it is so difficult to find concrete instances. Thus S. Clarke, as well as Hutcheson, accepts the tendency of benevolence to produce happiness as an illustration of a necessary law arising from the natures or reasons of things (§§ 502, 506–7, cf. 466), and Locke might have pointed to this kind of law when he declared that morality was capable of demonstration. This law may be stated indeed as a 'law of nature 'in the ordinary physical sense, and as such is capable of support by empirical evidence, and if proved is as necessary as any other empirical law; but it is evident that in this sense it cannot be a law of morals in Clarke's own sense, and that its necessity is not what he means by necessity. His adoption of it however is quite consistent with the utilitarian tendency of the intellectual school which is so conspicuous in Wollaston (§§ 1066–7). Gay, who was by no means a supporter of 'absolute fitnesses,' put forward the relations of things as the criterion of happiness in very much the way in which Clarke had attempted to use them.
Virtue declared to be real and ‘natural.’
I have already several times spoken of the 'intellectual' and 'sentimental' schools as representing two principal lanes of thought in this period, but have not thought it necessary to define or even describe them. They are primarily distinguished by their adoption of reason and feeling respectively as the faculty which perceives moral distinctions, a faculty declared in each case to be peculiar and not identifiable with ordinary reason or ordinary feeling. When they draw references from the faculty to the criterion, the subject-matter, the motive and the obligation of morality, the issues become confused, and there is much ground for Bentham's assertion that both schools, as soon as they come to particulars, are equally utilitarian. The fact is that, whatever the particular form or topic of discussion, they have one common object —to show that virtue is real and is worth pursuing in itself; that virtue and the motive to it are irreducible to a merely animal experience of pleasure and pain. The dispute between them is as to the most effective way of attaining this object, and it may fairly be said that they are much stronger in their criticisms of each other than in their own solutions of the problem. They see clearly enough the difficulty of maintaimng the specific character of morality the tendency of the moral to dissipate itself into the non-moral, whether on the side of experience or on the side of mathematical abstract truth opposite to experience. The fact is that they both start from an uncritical view of experience itself, from the abstract view of their common opponents the sensationalists, and so whether they appeal to or revolt from experience they rest their theories on an equally insecure foundation. Their dispute however is on its own plane very instructive, and in the following pages some of its principal turns and issues are followed out.
That virtue is 'natural' and 'according to nature' is indeed an article of faith with both schools, though they are not unaware of that ambiguity of the term on which Hume remarks (Treatise, p. 474). The sense of 'nature' adopted by Hobbes is of course rejected by both, and both are inclined to minimize rather unduly the artificial element in morality. For the intellectual school virtue is natural p_imarily because it conforms to the 'intelligible nature and essence of thmgs,' or the relations arising from them (§§ 825, 491, 550, 1053), secondarily because it recognizes the actual nature, i. e. the constitution of man (§§ 550, 1007). For the sentimental school, on the other hand, virtue is natural because it conforms to and is the normal expression of uncorrupted human nature. When it IS asked however what is human nature, some difference of opinion arises: for Shaftesbury and Hutcheson the kindly or benevolent affections regulated by regard to the whole 'system of rationals' made up the real nature of man, though they sometimes put in a saving word for other affections: for Butler conscience speaks with the voice of the whole man, and the real nature of man is that constitution (not entirely benevolent) which conscience (and cool self-love) approves of (§§ 216–17): for Hume that conduct is natural which we ordinarily expect, and for Adam Smith that conduct with which the impartial spectator is able to sympathize. There is a vagueness in these conceptions which renders welcome the further definition contributed by Kames: the common and proper nature of man is that constitution which best enables the species to maintain itself in relation to the external circumstances, now called the environment1 , in which it is placed (§§ 911).
Moral laws and natural relations.
The attempt of one section at least of the intellectual school to deduce moral laws from the 'nature of things' requires closer scrutiny. Everything is said to have a permanent nature, essence, or character which determines its relations to other things. Since the essences are eternal and immutable, so also are the relations. A thing which is once equal to another is always so, as long as they both remain the same, and the propositions which arise from or are made about their relations are eternally and immutably true. This reminds us of the 'permanent system of relations' on which the modern idealist dwells in his theory of knowledge, but the moralists of our period were bolder in its use than we should be. Most of the instances of their natural relations and truths are taken from mathematics, and it is asserted that to deny a moral proposition, such as 'gratitude is due to benefactors,' is as formally absurd as to deny the mathematical truth that 'two straight lines cannot enclose a space,' or that 'things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other' (§§ 490–91). Conduct suitable to a certain person in certain circumstances might by a stretch of language be described as proportionate to the person's relations, i.e. his character and circumstances (§ 483), and advantage is taken of the word propomon to suggest the identity of moral and mathematical relations. The same jugglery is practised with equity and equality, and it is declared that 'the reason which obliges every man in practice so to deal always with another as he would expect that others should deal with him, is the very same as that which forces him in speculation to affirm, that if one line or number be equal to another, that other is reciprocally equal to it' (§ 500). It is candidly admitted (§ 491) that it is not in our power to withhold assent from a plain speculative truth, whereas we can refuse to act up to a plain moral truth, but this admission is not followed up to its proper conclusion that 'practical truth' is a metaphorical phrase and that the' practical absurdity' of refusing to perform the act indicated cannot be a 'formal absurdity.'
It is of course possible to contend that immoral action is absurd in another sense—i, e. of defeating its own end, but this is material absurdity, like that of refusing to act on a known physical law. This idea of material absurdity as a test of vice, has a long and not undistinguished history. It figures in Hobbes as an argument for the obligation of justice (injustice being as it a man should deny in the end what he had declared in the beginning) (§ 903), and it figures in Kant1 , and again in Prof. Green, who ultimately condemns the hedomst as seeking satisfaction in pursuits which cannot afford it1 . In the writers of the intellectual school it appears as the absurdity of treating things as other than they are—the absurdity of treating men as brutes and brutes as stones—of ignoring the eternal natures of things, but it soon appears that it is not the absurdity which makes such action wrong, but the self-will (§§ 491, 525, 1032, 1063) and wantonness and waste of opportumty whach it imphes, which are not necessarily absurd at all. This line of argument moreover leads easily into utilitarianism, for to treat men as they are is to treat them primarily as capable of and desiring happiness (§§ 1066–67, 665, cf. 241).
Marality and ‘truth.’
In the same way as the 'absurdity' relied on by the intel-lectualists turns out to be self-will, so the violation of truth, of which Wollaston makes so much, turns out to be 'untruth-fulness,' which can certainly be practised without absurdity (though it cannot be imagined a universal practice without some absurdity; lying would cease to be profitable to the liar if no one spoke the truth or expected others to speak the truth). His system, as Balguy points out (§ 550), rests on a confusion between 'objective and subjective truth,' and as Price argues (§ 693), it is hard to regard the evil of cruelty or ingratitude as being the same as that of telling a lie. The attempt, however, made by Balguy and Price themselves to exhibit virtue as 'truth,' breaks down almost as easily. Truth is of propositions, and is about things. The object of science is to attain truth about things, but it as not the object of morals to attain truth about actions. You can make as many true propositions about a bad action as about a good one, as Hutcheson points out (§§ 448, 454), and moral laws are a good deal more than such truths, at all events to anybody who is not a philosopher.
They can of course be cast into the form of a proposition, and 'thou shak not steal' may be rendered 'it is wrong to steal,' but the form in which they naturally appeal to the unsophisticated man is that of the imperative, whether it be hypothetical or categorical. It seems that in the last resort the insistence displayed by Balguy and Price (§§ 551, 626) in describing a right action as a 'true' one, is due to their conviction that moral distinctions are a function of reason and are also objective, and that it so they must be in some way or other an expression of 'truth,' 'practical reason' not yet being invented, or not yet apphed to the solution of this difficulty. It is perhaps noticeable that there is a tendency to couple 'order and truth' (§§ 719, 730), and it may be admitted that the idea of a moral 'order' is much more suitable for the purpose of these writers, than that of truth, but in their minds it is at least partly a theological idea.
The fitness of actions.
As for 'relations,' Balguy is easily driven to admit that mathematical relations can only be used figuratively in morals, and that moral perceptions, e.g. of moral agreement and fitness, are different in kind from mathematical perceptions (§§ 714–19), though they are still perceptions of reason and not of sense. A great deal of the intellectualist argument turns upon merely verbal ambiguity, which Price is obliged to admit (§§ 670, 694); relation, agreement, congruity, suitableness, fitness, form a series which lead, conveniently but loosely, from the non-moral to the moral. But to serve the purpose of the intellectualist, with his demand for absolute virtue, it must be absolute fitness (§ 483), and absolute fitness is a contradiction in terms. Moral fitness must mean either fitness to an end, e.g. happiness, or fitness to gratify a desire (§§ 807, 1014), or that conformity to a certain standard of character, otherwise determined, which is more usually called propriety or decency. Suitableness to human nature, whether that of the ideal man or the ordinary man (§§ 220, 262), is a quite intelhgible phrase, but it recognizes a standard which the intellectualists could not accept. That a virtuous act must not violate the physical laws of the universe, and in this sense must be suitable to the nature of things, is quite true, but that is only a negatlve condition of virtue, and such violation would constitute folly rather than vice, and an action which was calculated with most exact reference to physical conditions might yet be a very bad one. Abstract fitness is certainly not sufficient to constitute virtue (§§ 739, 747 n), and it is impossible to give a definition of virtuous fitness without including in the definition the idea of virtue. 'These expressions,' says Price, referring to congruity, suitability, & c., 'are of no use and have little meaning if considered as intended to define virtue; for they evidently presuppose it' (§ 697). Hume's remark on the writers of this school, that 'they thought it sufficient if they could bring the word relation into the argument without troubling themselves whether it was to the purpose or not' (Treatise, p. 464 n), is much to the point, as indeed is his whole criticism of the theory which places virtue and vice in relations (ib. pp. 463–470). If you say that the virtue of an act is a relation, he replies that all the four relations discoverable by reason are perceptible between inanimate objects or animals just as much as between persons: there is no actual relation in parricide which does not exist between the ivy and the oak, nor in incest which does not occur between animals. If it be replied that the moral relation is a new relation different from any of the four recognized relations, he says, show it me!
That is precisely what the intellectualists are inclined to do, and they name it 'fitness' or 'rectitude.' Fitness we have already dealt with, and shown that it carries us beyond itself to some standard which is already moral or else not founded in the 'nature of things') of 'Rectitude' we may say with Price that it is only another name for 'oughtness' (§§ 671, 686 n). And if 'oughtness' is a relation it as at all events a different kind of relation from the other relations, and thus far there is no ground for ascribing its perception to the same kind of reason as perceives them, nor s there any ground for deducing this new relation from others which are entirely different from it (Hume, Treatise, p. 469).
15. Are there acts which are virtuous in all relations
Hume properly points out (loc, cit.) that no conclusion can be drawn as to the nature of virtue or the faculty which perceives it from the assertion that 'we perceive an act in certain relations to be virtuous or vicious.' It may also be pointed out that it warrants no conclusion as to the immutable nature of morality. It may be granted that the same act in the same relations is always virtuous or vicious, if 'relations' be taken in the widest possible sense, but that is a perfectly barren proposition. What the intellectualists want to assert is something very different, viz. that there are certain acts, or classes of acts, which are virtuous or vicious in all relations and all circumstances. They instance 'keeping faith and performing equitable covenants and equity '(§§ 487, 498),' making a virtuous agent happy' (§§ 654 f.), and gratitude (§§ 717). But as soon as they come to define that gratitude which is always virtuous they are obliged to limit their statement to the state of mind or will, 'the ultimate principle of conduct or the deterruination of a reasonable being' (§§ 622), as distinguished from the overt act, for we clearly cannot say that any particular act is always virtuous or vicious in all circumstances. But can we say any more of any state of mind that it is always and in all circumstances virtuous? Is there not a proper and an improper gratitude, as Adam Smith suggests (§§ 290, 294–6)? and is it possible to advance a single step in the definition of the gratitude or other state of mind which is proper, without including in the definition the idea of virtue itself? Can we ever say more than that 'the gratitude which is virtuous is always virtuous,' which again is a perfectly barren proposition? We arc thus driven practically to reduce immutable morahty to the one empty proposition of Kant: there is nothing good but a good will, the goodness of which consists in formality alone. His efforts to get materiahty into his moral law led him to recur to those considerations of material absurdity which we have already examined. It may be repeated, in this connexion, that Kant would be a good deal better understood if he were read in connexion with the British Moralists, with whom he was well acquainted. There is little in him that is not in them, though his general attitude towards ethics is a different and more distinguished one. It is perhaps worth noting that the theory of the absolute fitness of certain kinds of action sometimes takes the form of asserting that one kind of action is 'fitter' in itself than another, generally its opposite (§§ 483, 619). This suggests the modification, lately revived by Dr. Mar-tineau, of an absolute code of duties into an absolute scale of duties, in which each class of act or motive appears not as 'good' or 'bad' but as better or worse than those below or above it 1 .
Reason as the moral faculty.
Let us pass from the consideration of the attempt to deduce morality from the 'nature of things' to exhibit it as part of that order of nature with which science is concerned, and to apply the formal tests of truth and falsehood to virtue and vice, and consider the meaning of the attempt to exhibit morality as a function of Reason. And first let us take it in its weakest aspect, in which it appears as a positive rather than a negative theory. We have here to deal with bold intutionists. Price quite rightly points out that the sensationalist argument that reason gives rise to no new ideas is framed with reference primarily to deductive reason (to which we may add inductive reason, if there is any essential difference), the function of which in morals can only be ancillary. This reason, which 'is and only ought to be the slave of the passions '(Hume, Treatise, p. 415), is not the only form of reason, and it is asserted that intuitive reason does give rise to new ideas. Price (§§ 589–604) goes through the stock arguments (borrowed from Plato and Cud-worth) for the activity of reason in the formation of general and abstract ideas, in the criticism and correction of sensation he also instances the ideas of solidity, power, and causation. He then boldly asserts that right and wrong are simple ideas arising from 'some power of immediate perception in the human mind' (§ 605)' i.e. from 'our intuition of the nature of things' (§ 612). He means presumably that as soon as the idea of gratitude or truthfulness is brought before us we also form the idea of 'right,' and that this perception of right, being simple, is ultimate and undefinable (§§ 670, 682). This statement may be true, and yet not warrant any conclusion such as he has drawn. We touch, of course, here upon the general Idealist argument that the activity of reason is necessary for the constitution of the world of knowledge, and even for the constitution of 'objects' of sense. The argument is mainly negative and rests, even in the speculative sphere, upon the alleged insufficiency of sense, but in the practical sphere it is still more negative. The modern form of the idealist argument deals in the speculative sphere chiefly with the manufacture of relations, which are felt to furnish the most satisfactory instances of the activity of reason: and there is no lack of such instances, whether we take time and space, or causation, or the mathematical relations. But in the practical sphere it is no longer possible to deal with relations, and it is very hard to give any definite instances at all of the products of reason, especially if it be desired to exhibit those products as 'universal and necessary.' The whole force of the argument lies therefore in the negative criticism of sense, and it is peculiarly hard in the practical region to force on an opponent the alternative, 'either sense or reason,' which, in fact, Adam Smith refuses to accept (§ 343). He is always able to reply, 'The sense which you declare to be insufficient is not the sense which I mean: I mean by sense a good deal more than Hume meant, and I quite agree with you that such a sense as Hume referred everything to is a mere fiction.' The same reply, of course, can be and is made in the speculative sphere, but it is easier to make and more difficult to meet in morals. I am not going to enter into the general Idealist controversy. It may be noted, however, that the argument that, as reason is necessary to constitute objects of knowledge, so it is necessary to constitute any motives or objects of desire1 , does not appear in the writings of this period, though the analysis of desire plays a very important part in them. Whether that argument strengthens the Idealist position is another question. It may also be noted that the attribution of self-determination to reason, and the vindication of freedom in morals by reference to that self-determination, do not distinctly appear1 (§§ 597, 701): how far that self-determination which characterizes speculative as well as practical reason is a sufficient foundation for responslbihty is again another question2 . Price indeed asserts that, though reason implies liberty, yet liberty does not imply reason, t_ue hbelty being possessed by animals (§§ 703).
Can reason move to action?
Hume's principal argument against reason is that it excites to no action, is 'perfectly inert,' and 'can never be the source of so active a principle as conscience or a sense of morals' (Treatise, §§ 413–18, 457). Reason can indicate the means to an end, or can show us the existence of a desired end, but it cannot itself recommend an end (§§ 449 f., 450). This argument primarily applies to discursive, not to intuitive reason, and it may be said that the hard distinction drawn by Hume (as previously by Aristotle) between means and end does not prevail in morals: we do not as a matter of fact when judging of an action always or often regard it as a means or as distinct from its end (cf. §§ 572, 304, 881–5). When we judge morally of an act, we more often regard it as the part of a whole, a system of conduct than as the means to an end. But when we do consider our actins as means to an end it is not easy to say in what sense the end can be called 'reasonable.' Whether there are ultimate ends, and whether virtue is an ultimate end, or whether pleasure is the only ultimate end, are further questions; I am now only concerned with the attempt made to exhibit reason as constituting 'ends' which are capable of moving us to action, and for this purpose something more is required than that function of reason by which it makes an end or anything else an object of knowledge. The modern argument which attributes to reason an important part in the constitution of the ideas of 'self and 'self-satisfaction,' and so in the constitution of all motives, is curiously reversed by Balguy (§§ 724–5). Balguy's own arguments are perhaps less convincing on this point than on any other, especially when he rings the changes on 'reason' and 'reasons.' It is useless in this connexion to reiterate, as Price does (§ 706), that the 'perception of right and wrong does excite to action'; this is not only admitted by Hume, but urged by him to show that the perception cannot be a function of Reason. In the same way it is no good urging that the moral law moves to action by its inherent worth (by exciting 'respect' as Kant would say) unless you can prove that the perception of 'worth' is peculiar to reason, the difficulty of which I have suggested in the last paragraph. Balguy identifies 'Reason and moral good' (§§ 563, 720) and says that in pursuing reason or moral good a reasonable creature is acting according to his nature, i.e. reasonably. It is as absurd therefore to ask why a reasonable creature should act reasonably as to ask why a sensible creature should pursue happiness (§ 732), an argument which still has considerable vitality. The difficulty is to give any pamcular meaning to acting 'reasonably' which does not contradict the argument. Kant gave some meaning to 'reasonably 'when he interpreted it as 'universally,' but the difficulty then arose of distinguishing 'universal' action from action that was not' universal.' Of course both schools recognize that 'reasonable' action in the sense of considerate and careful action is generally best: rational is thus contrasted with instinctive benevolence, rational or cool self-love with passion. Hume indeed traces the fallacy of the intellectual school to the universal acknowledgement of the superiority of the calm passions (Treatise, pp. 417, 437).
The sentimental theory of human nature.
Let us now turn to the sentimentalists and examine their attempt to show that virtue is real and natural by relating it, not to the 'nature of things,' but to 'human nature.' There are two points on which they have to defend themselves against the sceptic: they have to show that moral ideas are not resolvable into non-moral by any of the great solvents, sympathy, or habit, or association of ideas: they have also to show that, though they are ultimate, yet they are inherently attractive and influential and do not owe their power to anything which is non-moral. At the same time they have to defend themselves against the intellectualists who urge that no sense or sentiment whatever can yield moral ideas possessing either the qualities required by the controversy with scepticism, or the quality of obligatoriness required by the intellectualist. For the sentimentalist, therefore, it is a 'war with two fronts,' and when he faces one enemy he generally exposes his flank to the other. When he has vindicated against the sceptic the distinction between moral and natural good, the intellectualist meets him with the objection that his moral good imposes only a natural obligation, and is therefore no more acceptable as a basis of morality than pleasure pure and simple. When he has succeeded to his own satisfaction in showing that the feeling of approbation is quite different from the feeling of the anticipation of pleasure, that it is differently regarded by all men and leads to a different course of action, he is met by the intellectualist with the objection that a subjective feeling is never the same as an objective quality, and that in point of subjectivity, i e. arbitrariness, variability, particularity, the feeling of approbation is not at all superior to the feeling of pleasure. On one point, however, the two schools are in fact more of less agreed—and that is on the possibility of disinterested desire. This has not much effect in bringing them together, though Price refers to Butler's theory with approval (§ 651 ff.).
The ‘reflex sense’ in human nature.
Virtue is natural, urges the sentimentalist, because it is an expression of the uncorrupted nature of man, of his nature regarded in all its relations and as part of a system, of his nature as distingmshed by self-consciousness and reflection and 'affection towards affections 'from that of animals, of his whole nature as comprising a peculiar moral sense, of his nature as an organic whole organized under two authoritatave and reflective principles, conscience and self-love: it is an expression of the real and entire nature of man as distinguished from those partial and distorted aspects of human nature to which the enemies of virtue appeal.
In Shaftesbury's theory there is no strong contrast between the moral and non-moral, except that for morality a further complication of animal nature is required, viz. reflection on affection ('reflected sense') and consequent affection towards affection (§§ II, 25). It might, of course, be urged that this difference is one of decree only, not of kind, and it is pointed out afterwards by Kames (§ 931), with reference to Butler's stronger doctrine, that mere 'reflection' does not constitute the authority of conscience. In the modern Idealist controversy indeed great stress is laid upon self-consciousness, and the evidence it gives of the activity of reason1 , but Shaftesbury's theory can hardly be regarded as an adumbration of that theory. As against the satirists, indeed, his picture of the natural benevolence (with which he generally identifies virtue) of man has some force, and against the individualists his picture of the essential relation in which man stands to the social system has also force, though it is weakened rather than strengthened by his reference to universal nature (§ 4). At this point Shaftesbury's theory comes in ap pearance close to that of the intellectuahst. By giving free play to his kindly affections man plays his part not only in the limited system or society of which he is primarily a member, but in the wider 'system of all rationals, and ultimately in that great systematic scheme of all things with reference to which alone things can be called absolutely good or ill. But in this scheme there is no room for the essential difference of moral and natural, and the theory easily admits of a naturalistic or biological interpretation. Also his theory has no power of resistance in the face of 'universalistie hedonism,' nor indeed against 'individualistic hedonism 'except in its rawest form.
Hutcheson is not contented with a mere 'reflex sense ': he considers that man has in him a peculiar sense giving rise to a peculiar and disinterested feeling of approbation, distinguishable from all other feehngs and more particularly from the anticipation of pleasure immediate or remote, consequential or concomitant. Virtue, which he also generally identifies with benevolence, is the object of this sense, and man is incited to its pursuit by this sense and the love which springs from it. This theory has some force against the theory of conscious calculating selfishness, but not much against the more refined forms of hedonism. Its assertion of the essential difference between moral and natural good (§§ 68, 472) is verbally an advance on Shaftesbury, but it is exposed to very rough criticism by the intellectualists.
It is in Butler that the sentimental school really reaches its climax. He is indeed careful not to commit himself to any decision between the claims of reason and sense (§§ 188, 244), but it is impossible not to treat his theory as intimately related to the speculation of Hutcheson, who indeed in his last work (§§ 472–4) evidently has taken a good deal from Butler. Man as an orgamc whole consists not only of parts, but of parts interrelated under a reflective faculty, which is endued not only with power or attractiveness but with authority. It is not merely the source of an additional feeling, distinguishable from other feelings: its deliverances stand on a different level from those of the other faculties, they are superior and imperative. To act according to human nature is to fall in with the system imposed by this authority, which has regard to all the capacities of human nature and by no means confines its interest to benevolence.
Sense as a source of obligation.
But, urges the intellectualist, how does your system secure the obligatoriness of virtue? Even if it be true that the view of benevolent acts or affections does not leave us indifferent, even if a 'reflex sense' on consideration of them yields a peculiar and exquisite pleasure or gives rise to a new feeling which we call approbation, does this impose on me any obligation to perform such acts or gratify such affections? It may move or attract me, as a matter of fact, more than anything else, but does it oblige me? And, supposing that at any time it fails to move or attract a man, or supposing a man to be naturally weak or altogether deficient in it, is that to excuse him partially or wholly for his vicious acts? Balguy urges the distinction between the natural obligation of pleasure and pain, viewed as the sanctions or consequences of acts, which appeals to us as sensible creatures, and moral obligation, which cannot be derived from our sensible natures (§§ 720–2). Price urges that 'the attraction or excitement which the mind feels upon perceiving right and wrong is the effect of obligation perceived rather than obligation itself' (§ 682) 1 . As a matter of fact Shaftesbury and Hutcheson have very little to say about obligatton, and they do not claim as against the hedonist that the obligation of moral laws is other than that of pleasure. When Shaftesbury sets out to show the obligations to virtue he only attempts to show that to have that balance of affections which he calls virtue 'is to have the chief means and power of self-enjoyment' (§§ 26, 37). This really is nothing more than a discussion of the motive to virtue, and, though Hutcheson objects to the inclusion of the 'concomitant pleasure 'of benevolence in such motive, he does not really advance upon Shaffesbury's position as to the nature of obligation. He has indeed no liking for the topic. With some justification perhaps he denounces 'ought' as a 'confused word,' and obligation as 'a term both complex and ambiguous' (§§ 460, 481). When he is deahng with the theory that all obligation proceeds from laws, he asks (§ 172), How can we then say that God ought to make the innocent happy? This question might have suggested to him that there is a sense of obligation other than those which he enumerates elsewhere (§§ 166–7), unless he is prepared to accept J. Clarke's hedonistic theory of God's action (§ 802). But when he deals with obligation it is always in accordance with his own pronouncement that 'the principal business of the moral philosopher' is to show from solid reasons 'that universal benevolence tends to the happiness of the benevolent.' In the whole of the controversy, indeed, the ideas of 'obligation 'and 'motive 'are so mixed up by the Intellectual (the confusion is pointed out by Price, § 682) as well as by the Sentimental school that nothing very useful emerges, except with regard to the definition of 'duty' (§ 688 f.) and the relation of obligation and 'constraint' (§ 174).
Butler's theory of obligation and punishment.
Whether from incapacity to do otherwise or for some better reason, the Intellectualists really confine themselves to declaring that obligation is part of the notion of virtue: to ask what obliges us to virtue is to ask why we are obliged to do what we are obliged to do (§ 679). This is also Butler's posmon: his assertion of the authority and supremacy of conscience is only another way of asserting that the moral law has the aspect of an imperative, obedience to which is obligatory as obedience to a rightly constituted civil authority is obligatory. In this connexion Butler, like Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, lays great stress upon the superiority of a reflective faculty to a simple propension or appetite. In Butler's case it looks almost like a sop to the intellectualists (cf. § 687). But, besides being open to Kames' criticism, referred to above, it lands him in serious difficulties with self-love, which is also a reflective principle, and as such seems to have a co-ordinate authority with conscience (§§ 217, 226). Conscience, however, and self-love look on pleasure and pain with different eyes—to self-love they are natural consequences of actions, to conscience they always appear as punishment or reward, This point of view is at least partly theological, and conscience is not only that whxch enables a man to be a law to himself, but it also speaks as the voice of God. This throws the whole stress of the obliga-toriness of the moral law on the theory of punishment, which is certainly one of the most important parts of Butler's speculation1 . The introduction of punishment has indeed the advantage of once more assimilating the moral to the legal notion of obligation and relieving moral obligation from the charge of being something merely in the clouds to which no intelligible meaning could be attached—a mere name. But this theory of punishment is not only open to the utilitarian criticism, but is also liable to be treated from the naturalistic point of vtew as based on a non-moral principle of retaliation (cf. §§ 293, 302). It also, as above suggested, lets in the theological point of view, though of course in the eyes of one to whom the whole world is but 'the ante-room of heaven and hell,' this would be no disadvantage.
We may also notice again the hint in Cudworth of the pecuhar 'formality' of moral obligation (§ 820, cf. §§ 492).
The sentimental theory supplies no criterion.
The point on which sentimentalist morals are chlefly attacked by the intellectualist is their subjectivity and consequent lack of universality: and this attack takes two directions. The sentimentalist is first accused of substituting a faculty for a criterion, the subjective act of approbation for an objective quality, and, secondly, of identifying the moral faculty, from which approbation proceeds, with a sense. These two criticisms are as a fact seldom distinguished by their authors, nor is the idea of a criterion very distinctly conceived by any of the chief parties to the controversy. Wollaston, who has most to say about it (§§ 1023, 1044 f.), is not the most successful in dealing with it, and some of the absurdity of his theory is due to his preoccupation with it. But the intellectualists are quite clear in general that to say that 'good' means and is nothing more than what we approve is preposterous (§§ 536, 685). Both parties are agreed, as against the hedonist, that no reason can be given for our approbation, which is necessary and ultimate (§§ 585, 608, 559, cf. §§ 369–371); but so long as the intellectua-list is unable to do more than name the quality which is approved the controversy is rather barren. The effort to give material content to 'rectitude' is a failure, and he has not yet resigned himself to merely formal content. The sentimentalist, on the other hand, boldly produces 'benevolence' as the quality approved, and the controversy shifts its ground and becomes an inquiry into the sufficiency of benevolence to constitute moral good. Two questions therefore are mainly discussed: if the approving faculty is of the nature of a sense, and if the approved quality is of the nature of an instinct, can anything but an arbitrary morality be constructed upon such a basis?
Is a moral sense ‘arbitrary’?
Against the identification of the approving faculty with any kind of sense or anything like a sense it is urged that the constitution of our senses is arbitrary and might have been different. Might not God have given us a sense to which malicious instead of benevolent acts were agreeable, and which would approve of ingratitude and perfidy (§§ 186, 538)? If so, then virtue is made dependent on the arbitrary will of God, and the question arises which we have already discussed. Hutcheson suggests two answers: first, that the present constitution of our moral sense is good, because it tends on the whole to the happiness of creation, which must be a matter of concern to a benevolent God (§§ 186, 457). He does not lay much stress on this argument, because it seems to make moral dependent on natural good, but rather urges that God's approval of the present constitution of our moral sense proceeds from some principle in him analogous to man's moral sense (§ 459). This explanation, of course, only puts the difficulty one step further back, as Balguy points out (§ 528). Besides the arbitrariness of virtue alleged to follow from this theory there is its variability; you cannot expect uniformity in the senses of different men, or of the same man at different times; 'to make the rectitude of moral actions, in proportion to the warmth and strength of the moral sense, rise and fall like spirits in a thermometer is depreciating the most sacred thing in the world and almost exposing it to ridicule' (§ 539)—and certainly rendering morality 'incapable of demonstration' (§ 728), besides ascribing to it a low origin and impairing its dignity (§ 540). If Hutcheson urges that as a matter of fact 'it is highly probable that the senses of all men are pretty uniform' (§ 463), Balguy replies that 'this universality does not remove the imputation we are speaking of. Hunger and thirst are universal instincts, but, however suitable they may be to our present condition, they are never reckoned honourable to human nature'(§ 731). It is clear that to Balguy, whose arguments are more than slightly rhetorical, 'the hunger and thirst after righteousness' could not be an acceptable phrase.
Moral sense as furnishing a criterion and motive.
But a greater difficulty lies behind. All senses stand in need of correction, and it was a principle of ancient idealism that the faculty which judges of and corrects the senses cannot be itself sense. It is admitted that moral sense at times requires correction, and can be improved by education and training. What sets the standard of this correction and improvement? Hutcheson (§§ 465–7) boldly faces this question, and it strains his theory almost to the breaking point. He says that reason undoubtedly corrects our opinions—(a) as to the tendencies of certain actions to happiness (Bentham thinks this is the only possible form of correction, § 366), (b) as to the affections by which an agent is actually influenced, and in these ways rather corrects the data upon which our moral sense pronounces judgment than regulates our moral sense itself. He admits that our organs of sense may be disordered or may mislead us, and that we correct their deliverances by the standard of a normal sense. He expresses a doubt whether in fact our moral sense itself ever is disordered as the organs of sight or hearing are disordered (Adam Smith has no doubts as to this, § 350), but if it were so disordered he says that reason could do nothing to correct it except by 'suggesting to its remembrance its former approbations and representing the general sense of mankind,' and from this, he declares, we cannot infer that reason antecedently to sensation has ideas of virtue and vice. It must of course be admitted that the inference drawn by the intellectualist is not justifiable, but, on the other hand, Hutcheson's subjective empiricism, if followed up, lands him in difficulties. The doctrine of the moral sense is a sensationalist, individualist doctrine, through which Locke's metaphysical assumptions can easily be seen. His morality is a 'protestant' morality of private judgment, and there is no hint of a 'national conscience,' or of that organic conception of the good, evolved in and through society alone, on which Greenland so much stress, and which corresponds to the organic conception of a kóóμos of inter-related phenomena which serves as the basis of science1 . Hutcheson therefore would, if he pursued the subject, find that the correction of the individual's moral sense by the general sense is peculiarly difficult for him. In speculative matters we are all accustomed to correct our opinions by those of others or by the verified laws of science: but are we entitled to correct our own moral judgements by those of others in a matter of right as distinguished from a matter of fact? How far is the appeal to the 'general sense' either attractive to the unreflective or valid for the reflective? Respectability has many merits, but it does not often raise enthusiasm. On a really social and 'catholic' theory, such as Aristotle's was, the σπovδaîos takes a rank as standard and motive which on a 'protestant' theory he cannot have. Speaking generally, the idealist contention has much truth, that sense (as regarded by sensationahsts themselves) is not a bond of union or a basis of common action, and that the conception of a common good is a cause rather than an effect of sympathy.
But the real fact is that the moral sense theory is a theory of motive rather than of criterion. It is not put forward with a view to assisting us to distinguish right from wrong (§ 136): for this purpose to refer us to a faculty would be a good deal more futile than to refer us to the σ§tov§aîos. Nor is it really framed with much reference to the intellectualist school; except in so far as Hutcheson's metaphysics convince him that sense is the only sure basis of any experience. It is really a counter-theory to the selfish theory, which is essentially a theory of motives. Virtue is real and natural, says the sentimentalist, because there is in every man a sufficient motive to it. We all of us have some benevolence, but purely natural benevolence is apt to be weak or partial. It is strengthened and corrected by the moral sense, which adds a novel and exquisite pleasure to that which accompanies the gratification of any natural impulse. When benevolence is wide and impartial this accessory pleasure derived from the moral sense reaches its highest pitch.
Is moral sense itself an element in virtue?
This is very well urged by Hutcheson against the crude form of the selfish theory. Virtue or benevolence is made our greatest happiness, apart from any external consequences, by the action of moral sense. But some confusion results as regards the nature of virtue. Does the virtue of an act consist in the strong benevolence it shows, or in the keen moral sense which regulates the benevolence? He says (§ 473) that we do not call an acute moral sense itself virtuous, but we 'approve it above all other abilities,' nor will he (§ 474, but ef. § 349) identify virtue with the 'love of moral excellence or love of complacency' which is the direct expression of the moral sense. To some extent the distinction between benevolence and complacency corresponds to that between instinctive and rational benevolence, which he admits (§ 442), inasmuch as 'calm universal benevolence' can only be the effect of long operation of the moral sense. Balguy is quite justified in identifying universal benevolence and complacency (§ 557) and in making this rational complacency rather than benevolence the basis of virtue.
Hutcheson was no doubt wise in his generation in refusing to identify virtue with anything so recondite as love of moral excellence, though he was obliged to recognize its existence. ft would be difficult for him to assert against the selfish school that such a love was universal among common men. He wanted something which he could plausibly ascribe to the mass of men, for he certainly wanted to make most men out to be virtuous if he could. But in reality, though the moral sense theory reinforces his theory of benevolence, it embarrasses his theory of virtue, and it does so all the more because he does not avail himself of the 'will' as the seat of virtue. He seems once on the point of doing so (§ 442, note), but he was probably unwilling to involve his theory in the free-will controversy, and we for our part may be thankful that he did not. Since Kant the will has been freely referred to as the ultimate residence of virtue, but not always with profit
Is a moral sense necessary?
In the moral sense theory the questions of the nature and subject-matter and motives of virtue are so mixed up that it is almost impossible to separate them, as Price would have us do (§ 586). It is therefore difficult, and would after all be rather artificial, to develop one's criticism of the theory in any very logical or consecutive way. But before coming to the discussion of desire, which is in some ways the most interesting part of the writings of this period, we may mention some miscellaneous criticisms of the moral sense theory.
The intellectualists of course denounce the moral sense theory not only as offensive but as gratuitous (§§ 538, 607). Butler does not commit himself (§§ 244), but Adam Smith denounces it as contrary to the economy of nature (§§ 347), and Gay says that it is at the best based on an argument ad ignorantiam, by which we should be as justified in asserting a 'pecuniary sense' as a moral sense (§§ 855, 883). As a matter of fact, Huteheson displays a most alarming readiness to multiply senses (§§ 441–3), which finds its proper caricature in Kames' 'sense of property' (§ 948 f.). The real sting however of these criticisms lies in their counter-assertions of sympathy or association of ideas as explanations of the admitted phemomenon of 'immediate approbation.' To these we shall recur.
There is also certainly some ground for J. Clarke's assertion that what the theory gives with one hand it takes away with the other: that it invents a sense to make virtue pleasant, and then says we must not pursue that pleasure (§ 806). Hutcheson, who had crmcized Shaftesbury for allowing the virtuous man to have regard to the concomitant pleasure of benevolence (§ 470), is most careful to impress on us that our benevolence must be entirely disinterested if it is to be virtuous: the concomitant pleasure of benevolence must not and indeed cannot be the motive to benevolence. But he is not so clear about the pleasure of the moral sense. He of course asserts that approbation is itself disinterested and is not excited by desire to obtain the concomitant pleasure of approbation, but he does admit (§ 460) that 'the prospect of the pleasure of self-approbation is often a motive to choose one acnon rather than another,' and he would presumably regard it as a proper monve in 'choosing to continue in the agreeable state' of benevolence (§ 131). In general, however, he runs a risk with his theory of disinterested desire of proving too much—viz. that all desire is disinterested, in which case disinterestedness is no longer the mark of virtuous desire or that no thought of the pleasure of moral sense must enter into the mind of the virtuous person, in which case the moral sense is not very useful to virtue, but on the contrary frequently imperils its existence. It may also be noted that Hutcheson's imitation of the function of moral sense to the production of a peculiar pleasure opens the way to such an assimilation of that pleasure to other pleasure as Hume carried out through the medium of sympathy. His theory comes perilously near to saying that virtue is 'that which pleases us after a particular manner' (Hume, Treatise, p. 470).
Virtue as benevolence.
As for benevolence itself, the sentimentalists are quite sure that disinterested benevolence is the foundation and summary of virtue. The rigour of their altruism is, however, quahfied by the admission that in considering the good of 'the system of rationals 'a man is allowed to regard himself as a member of that system, and if the good resulting to others from a given act is not so great as the evil resulting' to himself he may properly abstain from it for that reason (§§ 117–118, cf. §§ 133, 180). Benevolence itself, or regard for the good of a system, requires a man to be solicitous about himself, and to have special regard to his relations and friends.
It is quite clear here that something else is considered than the amount of benevolence implied in an act. It may perhaps be said that regard to the good of a wide system requires more benevolence than regard to the good of a narrow system, but when we are instructed to prefer the good of the higher to that of the lower system the appeal is evidently to other considerations than those of benevolence: the difficulty is, in fact, the same as arises for the hedonist over 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures (§ 479, cf. § 476).
The theory of benevolence, moreover, was founded on the assumption of what Butler calls 'the natural principle of attraction between man and man' (§ 207), or a benevolence, as Hutcheson says, 'in some degree extended to all mankind' (§ 108). Hume had attacked the 'benevolent' theory by declaring that' there was no such passion in human minds as the love of mankind merely as such, independent of personal qualities, of genius, or of relation to oneself '(Treatise, pp.481–2), or, as Kames puts it, 'there is no such principle of general fondness of man to man by nature as there is in dogs towards man' (§ 937). Such general benevolence as is displayed is said to be due to 'sympathy,' on the theory of which a good deal of the controversy turns. The benevolent theory was also attacked by the intellectualists as basing virtue upon instincts the operation of which is necessary and so devoid of merit (§§ 532–5) As against the selfish school and their instinct of self-love, Hutcheson is prepared to defend a 'benevolent universal instinct' (§ 131), but as a rule he prefers to emphasize against both criticisms the distinction between 'calm universal benevolence,' the product of reflection, and the particular benevolent affections (§ 442). This reflection upon 'all mankind or the system of rationals' turns out, however, to be only the reflection that by regard to them 'we may gratify either our self-love or kind affections in the fullest manner.' The good of the species appears to be hardly a possible object of affection, and the reflective love seems hardly disinterested (§§ 452–3). Thus the idea of the 'universal natural good of mankind' or 'the system of rationals' which in his earlier writings is distinctly 'constitutive' (§ 112) becomes attenuated into a very regulative principle in his later writings. And if we appeal to the moral sense we find that it often approves and disapproves without any regard to the good of any system (§ 480), and it turns out (probably under the influence of Butler) that 'the righteousness or goodness of actions is not the same notion with their tendency to universal happiness or flowing from the desire of it.'
Butler's treatment of benevolence is indeed of great importance in the history of moral philosophy: benevolence is disinterested indeed, but it is no more disinterested than any of the particular affections, every one of which 'rests in its object as an end' (§ 207). The love of our neighbor is as interested or disinterested as the love of anything else; there is no peculiar contrariety between benevolence and self-love (§§ 233–4) disinterestedness is not the distinguishing mark of virtue, and 'benevolence and the want of it, simply considered, are in no sort the whole of virtue and vice' (§ 249, cf. § 532), though most of the common virtues and vices may be traced up to benevolence or the want of it (§ 242). Benevolence is for some purposes placed by Butler on the same level as the particular affections, though it is not therefore a blind pro-pension, but is to be regarded as naturally allied with calculative reason (§ 240), but on a lower level than the two great reflective principles, self-love and conscience. Both of these combine to encourage benevolence to the greatest extent, though conscience certainly is influenced by other considerations than the amount of happiness produced, and more particularly by that of 'desert' (§ 244). The way is thus opened for a more liberal view of human nature and its 'perfection,' a conception which had been almost stifled by the weight of benevolence, and for other aspects of morality besides its hedonistic, though he is not afraid to admit that 'nothing can be of consequence to mankind or any other creature but happiness' (§ 241). Butler's theory is by no means free from confusion, but he gets rid of the confusions which grew so thick round the 'calm universal benevolence' of the sentimentalists, and also of that narrowness which is so apt to make the 'disinterested 'theory merely uninteresting.
Before we consider the significance of Butler's theory of desire it may be convenient to notice the two great principles which have been used to explain the admitted immediacy of moral approbation and the alleged disinterestedness of both approbation and benevolence—sympathy and association of ideas. Hume's theory of sympathy is primarily designed to explain how an individual whose experience is absolutely confined to his own feelings can yet acquire such an interest in the feelings of other individuals as to form a society in which his own feehngs are subordinated to those of others. Hume's psychology of sympathy has a metaphys:cal interest beyond that of an explanation of a disputed moral phenomenon, and effective criticism of it involves metaphysical considerations on which it is neither possible nor desirable to dwell here, because they belong to a totally different level of thought from that adopted by the other moralists of the period. Let us, therefare, take his metaphysics and his psychological machinery (Trealise, p. 317 f.) for granted, and assume that it is possible for a man to enter into the feelings of another man by sympathy. This assumption he uses to explain the inconsistency between the theory that the virtue of an act is nothing but the pleasure it gives us and the adm:tted fact that we often approve (1. e. feel pleasure at the sight of) actions which are decidedly hurtful to us and advantageous to our enamels. We sympathize, he says, with the supposed pleasure which a quality or character gives the possessor, as we do with the supposed pleasure of the owner of a useful article, and that transferred pleasure is sufficient to overcome the pleasure we feel in surveying qualities useful to ourselves, and to raise in us a disapproval of our own unjust though profitable actions. He repudiates the idea that we sympathize with others by imagining ourselves in their place, but yet he is obliged to admit that we often sympathize with a purely imaginary pleasure which no one feels. He also has to admit that sympathy itself is partial and varies with the proximity and relationship of the other persons whose supposed pleasure causes ours, whereas our moral esteem is impartial and does not vary. To get over these difficulties Hume has to call in the assistance of 'general rules' by reference to which we correct the natural variations and deficiencies of our sympathy (§§ 581–6). But the whole difficulty which the theory of sympathy is invoked to solve is the difficulty of explaining how such a 'creature of feeling' as Hume supposes man to be can form or subject himself to general rules of judgement. It is difficult to acquit Hume here of a 'suppositio probandi' of a very flagrant kind. Somewhat on the lines of this criticism the idealist sets up a theory of sympathy which reverses the relation between sympathy, other than merely animal sympathy, and the conception of a common good, and condenms Hume's theory as preposterous. It is only, he urges, through the conception of a common good that we get that close relation between ourselves and other persons' selves which is required for the working of sympathy. It is because we love and identify ourselves with our neighbor that we are able to sympathize with him. A curious hint of this criticism crops up in Hutcheson (§ 206, cf. § 811), though he arrives at it in a very different way, and the same point is raised by Plato's theory of simultaneous feeling in the fifth book of the Republic1 .
Adam Smith is mainly concerned with the psychology of sympathy, but incidentally he makes considerable contributions to the metaphysics of the subject. He starts with an assertion of the individualism of sense, and therefore at once establishes sympathy on a basis of thought. He rejects the 'transfusion' and communicated vivacity of feelings as the foundation of sympathy, and dispenses with all Hume's elaborate machinery for transferring into ourselves the pleasure of another person in things useful to him. He bases moral approval neither on direct nor indirect utilitarianism. We approve of another's passions when we observe that we entirely sympathize with them (§ 262); we approve of our own passions when we are able to think that an impartial spectator can sympathize with them (§ 306), and the effect of this sympathy is that every member of society tries to lower or raise his passions to that pitch at which the ordinary spectator can sympathize with them (§§ 273–4, 276–7). At first sight this looks merely like Hume's standard of morality over again—'the ordinary course of our passions and actions,'' the natural and usual force of our passions' (Treatise, pp. 483–8, 532)—and seems to be only a glorified respectability: indeed it is put forward under the not very inspiring title of an account of' propriety.' On examination, however, it reveals a view of the organic unity of social feeling based on common circumstances and conditions of life and well-being, which is a great advance on anything which had fallen from his benevolent or utilitarian predecessors. Neither party to the controversy had fully recognized the significance of society, nor the really essential relation of morality to it: the utilitarian had assumed that in society there was very little to explain, and the sentimentalist accepted this assumption and offered an explanation which was 'altogether insufficient. It was an age of facile individualism, and men started from a conception of society as built up of individuals equipped each with a complete moral faculty. The idea of the individual conscience as only emerging from the social conscience (§§ 307–10), the idea of society as the whole from which the individual disentangles himself, and in which alone he can find himself, which is the central idea of Adam Smith's system, was a notable return to a more concrete method of thought. As has already been said, the most serious moralists of the time were preoccupied with the content of the individual moral consciousness, and their method was mainly introspective. They did their work well, but their method was not one which would lead them to exhaust the meaning of society. Adam Smith was one of the least metaphysical persons that ever wrote, but in some respects he anticipated a theory which some people would regard as metaphyslcal in the highest degree, that of the 'social self,' and it is a social self which enables us to effect not only an imaginary change of situation with the persons chiefly concerned, but a complete identification of our own person and character with that of another person (§ 339) Yet he does not ignore the influence of common interest, and, if sympathy with the motives of the agent is the source of our idea of propriety, sympathy with the gratitude of the person acted on is the source of our idea of merit: but the latter sympathy does not arise unless theie be, first, propriety in the motives of the agent. He is thus enabled to recognize the undeniable element of utihty in moral institutions, to which the selfish school had confined its view, and also to preserve those other elements which distmguish moral approval from the approval which we bestow on a well-contrived machine (§ 357) His deliverance of moral approbation from the dead level imposed on it by the selfish and benevolent schools alike, and his restoratton of variety and elasticity to that function, would alone be a considerable achievement (§ 353). His theory of sympathy is rather a preservative than a solvent. His system, however, is a 'closed system,' and he refused to recognize the existence of any question which necessarily leads beyond it, and, however useful for practical purposes, as a theory of the moral criterion it is insufficient. He insists, as against Hutcheson, that we do approve, if not of the faculty of approbation, at all events of acts of approbation, and regard them as morally good or bad: but we can only do this if the basis of approbation is the coincidence of approbations (§ 354). In the same way the 'general rules' which, like Hume, he uses for the correction of our sympathies can only arise from experience of what in particular cases we approve or disapprove of: 'We do not originally approve or condemn particular actions because upon examination they appear to be agreeable or inconsistent with a certain general rule. The general rule, on the contrary, is formed by finding from experience that all actions of a certain kind or circumstanced in a certain manner are approved or disapproved of (§ 315). The difficulty which we found in allowing Hume to claim the assistance of general rules does not arise here, at all events in the same form. Hume's theory of general rules is preposterous, in the hteral sense of the term; __dam Smith's is rather circular, but the essence of his system is that it is a closed circIe of reciprocal sympathy, and as such it deserves more attention than it has recently received from the sociologist, the psychologist, and the moralist.
Association of ideas.
Association of ideas does not figure as largely in the controversies of this period as one would expect. Hartley, whose Observations on Man were published in 1748, states that he was 'put upon considering the power of association' by hearing that 'the Rev. Mr. Gay asserted the possibility of deducing all our intellectual pleasures and pains from association.' Gay asserts that ultimately all affections arise from a desire of private happiness, and that all approbation of acts arises from the consideration of this tendency to private happiness: but the admitted fact that we approve acts and desire objects without considering or being able to see this tendency is due to association of ideas, such approval and affection being properly called habits (§ 855). Under the influence of association we come to look on acts, which originally were only valued as means to pleasure, as ends in themselves, and the origin of these habits is still further concealed from us by the fact that we 'do not always (and perhaps not for the most part) make this association for ourselves, but learn it from others—by imitation, inheritance, or education' (§§ 881–7). Hartley's work is of the first importance, but it stands on such a different level, and is carried out in such a different spirit from that of the ordinary moral philosophy of the period, that it is omitted from consideration here as well as from the selections.
Desire and pleasure.
And now we come at last to the fundamental principle of the 'selfish' system—that in the last resort a man does and can desire nothing but his own pleasure, a fact concealed from himself and others by the thousand complications introduced by social life. Locke makes an important contribution to the psychology of this theory when he asserts that the thought of future pleasure is not sufficient alone to move us to action: it is only when its absence causes us uneasiness that we are stirred to change our situation (§§ 977–980), Locke's theory certainly has the appearance of eliminating conscious thought altogether from desire, of treating desire as a mere sensation, and of reducing to a minimum that contemplation of an object upon which modern Idealism lays so much stress. Whether it really has that effect or is conceived with the malice sometimes attributed to to is doubtful. His theory seems to be not so much that desire is uneasiness, as that desire is never effectual until it reaches the pitch of an uneasiness.
Hutcheson in his earlier book is chiefly concerned to assert the existence in man of a direct desire for another person's good, and he finds evidence of its existence in the fact that it is the object of moral approbation. He is especially careful to show that what we approve is not the subordinate desire of another person's good as a means to our own. Afterwards he enters more seriously into the nature of desire, and asserts as against Locke that desire is 'as distinct from any sensation as the will is from the understanding or senses' (§§ 441, 443), though he admits that perhaps 'we are never conscious of any desire absolutely free from all uneasiness.' The ultimate question, however, is not so much whether desire at its ordinary level is a sensation, as whether it is a natural product of sensation, and further of our own sensation of our own pleasure. This question is concealed behind a crowd of other questions in the decision of which it is not vitally interested. It is not suggested by the sensationalists and hedonists that the immediate conscious object of all desire is pleasure, but it is suggested that we desire other things (e.g. wealth, friendship) for the sake of the pleasures resulting as consequences from their possession or for the sake of the pleasure oi successful activity, or for the sake of the pleasure of satisfying a desire and so removing a cause of uneasiness, or for the sake of the concomitant pleasure of self-approval, e.g. in benevolence: that is, that we have had antecedent experience of these pleasures, and the remembrance of them incites us to desire the actions by which they were obtained.
Now with regard to some of these pleasures it is not difficult to show that the selfish theory is preposterous. If it be true that what our moral sense approves in benevolence is only the direct desire of other persons' good, it is clear that we must have had the desire before we could experience the pleasure of approving it. Also we must have had the desire before we could experience the pleasure of feeling that its uneasiness is removed, or what is more commonly called the pleasure of the gratification or satisfaction of the desire. Perhaps also it might be said that the pleasure of success only comes to the man who has entertained a desire for the activity. But with regard to the pleasure which results from an activity as its consequence it must be remembered that the selfish school is entitled to all the benefit of the theory of association of ideas (until that theory is shown to be fallacious or inapplicable) whereby actions, which have in tile course of undesigned experience been associated with pleasure, first become regarded as means to pleasure, and afterwards become regarded as ends in themselves. It does not seem, therefore, to be a sufficient answer to the selfish theory to say with Butler that at the present stage of man's existence his desires 'rest in their objects' as ends. You will have to show from an analysis of the idea of desire itself that there is something more in it than can be accounted for by a reminiscence of pleasure as modified by association. But he, it is true, ingeniously defines pleasure, or rather happiness, in such a way as to support his theory of ultimate desires, when he says (§ 231) that 'happiness consists only in the enjoyment of those objects which are by nature suited to our several particular appetites, passions, and affections': if this be meant not merely as a description of the present psychological conditions of happiness for man, but as a statement of the nature of happiness, it does indeed imply that appetites, &c., are necessarily antecedent to the experience of happiness. But it may obviously be accepted in the other sense as the judgement of a reflective person on the present position of mankind, of the same kind and entitled to the same respect as his declaration that 'disengagement is absolutely necessary to enjoyment.' In other words, it forms part of his argument that we are not moved to all our actions by a reflective and conscious self-love, and that we are not nearly so engrossed with ourselves as some people tell us. It is nohceable that Butler lumps together for this purpose 'appetites, passions, and affections,' though one would have thought it necessary to distinguish, in an account of desire, between hunger and the desire of esteem or benevolence. Price concurs with Butler and Hutcheson in their criticisms of the selfish theory (§§ 651–3), and he definitely asserts the foundation of ultimate desires in the 'nature of things' (§§ 644, 648). Grave considerations of 'economy' have to be reckoned with here, and, though we may admit that against the crude theory of conscious selfishness Butler and Hutcheson make a fair defence, we have to ask, Is their theory valid against a further analysis? We may also admit that at a certain level, the level of the adult civilized man, their analysis is fairly good, but to offer as final a theory of desire which is based on such an analysis is obviously impossible. It may be true that in the desire of a social human being there is some element which is not present in animal desire, but it is clear that a theory of desire which ignores its physiological and biological aspects is even more impossible at the present day than it was when Plato discoursed about ∊pωs the continuous principle alike of animal reproduction and of philosophic absorption in reality; and when we are considering the relation of desire to pleasure those aspects become especially prominent. The empirical hedonistic explanation of desire such as is given by J. Clarke (§§ 778–782) accepts the alternative offered it by Price (§ 652) and assumes that our first activities are unmotived gropings and our first experiences of pleasure accidental so far as the individual is concerned, though for the scientific observer they have a great significance1 (§§ 808, 941). The experience of pleasure in an act or resulting from an act tends to make us repeat the act, until we come consciously to perform the act for the sake of obtaining the pleasure attached to it. The love of our neighbour is as much interested as the love of oysters, though the theory requires the first oyster to have been eaten by accident. The 'mind is conscious of a pleasure arising from the observed union of virtue and happiness, and of uneasiness from their separation, and this without the mixture of any selfish views; but then the disposition of the mind to actions of civility and kindness in favour of the eminently virtuous arises from the reflection upon the said pleasure and pain, and the performance of those actions is visibly intended in order to avoid the pain and procure the pleasure' (§ 782).
It is worth noting that the argument used by Balguy (§ 725) to depreciate pleasure—viz, that in desiring pleasure the ultimate end of the agent is not pleasure but self, the idea of which is perpetually uppermost—has been reversed and used to show the presence in all human desire of an element attributable to reason alone9 .
The greatest happiness of the greatest number.
There is very little discussion of the' summum bonum' in our writers. It is generally assumed to be happiness, though there is a visible tendency to modify it into 'deserved happiness,' and though the intellectualists assert the distinction between moral and natural good.
It was not reserved for Bentham to formulate 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number' principle, though he may fairly claim the credit of 'one man to count for one and no more than one,' a principle which alone makes the calculation of 'lots of happiness' theoretically possible and morally useless. The moralists of our period were indeed very well aware of the difficulties of the greatest happiness formula. Hutcheson points out truly enough (§ 452) that the conception of 'the greatest possible aggregate or sum of happiness,' like the conception of 'all mankind or the system of rationals,' is not a working conception, used by us in decldmg on particular actions. 'These conceptions only serve to suggest greater ends than would occur to us without reflection,' 'that so we may gratify our self-love or kind affections in the fullest manner as far as our power extends, and may not content ourselves with smaller degrees either of public or private good while greater are in our power.' On the other hand, Kames (§ 939) justly points out the notable effect of general terms upon our imagination 'nothing is more wonderful than that a general term to which a very faint, if any, idea is affixed should be the foundation of a more intense affection than is bestowed, for the most part, upon particular objects, how attractive sever '; and so we do for 'our country, our religion, our government,' what we would not do for our friends, and give up to mankind, like Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House, what were more properly bestowed upon our families.
Hutcheson also (§ 453) emphatically blocks the direct road between 'individualistic 'and 'universahstm' hedonism. Unless we have public affections, he says, 'this truth “that a hundred felicities is a greater sum than one felicity” will no more excite to study the happiness of the hundred than this truth, "an hundred stones are greater than one," will excite a man who has no desire of heaps to cast them together.' The distinction between the quality and quantity of pleasure, and the selection of the experienced man, who can only be the good man, as arbitrator in the question of the superiority of pleasures, of which Mill1 makes such use, both appear in Hutcheson (§ 478).
To carry the examination of the moral philosophy of this period further would lead me beyond the limits of space and method suitable to an introduction. From the topics, however, upon which I have been able to touch, it is evident that modern moral speculation has developed principally on hnes which took a fresh start even if they did not originate in the eighteenth century. Kant, whose principal moral writings were published between 1785 and 1788, adopts an attitude towards experience which is essentially that of the intellectuahsts. He goes indeed far beyond them, in that he offers his theory of morals In connexion with a systematic theory of experience, speculative and practical; but he starts as they do, and as Professor Green does, by accepting the assumption of the sensationalist, that sense alone is blank, chaotic, and incapable of organization into such a cosmos of experience as we all claim to possess. The depreciation of sense is willingly accepted in order to magnify the function of reason, and though later English adherents of the school repudiate the doctrine that sensation apart from reason is anything but a name, they continue to take full advantage of the antithesis which is admitted to be false, instead of beginning over again with a more concrete conception of sense. So far, however, as Kant is concerned, no criticism of his moral theory (apart from the doctrine of the 'practical reason') is more useful than that which proceeds on the sober, rather unimaginative lines of the British morahst, and demands the justification of each argument before the bar of the common moral consciousness.
The sentimentalists may seem to have contributed comparatively little to living moral theory, but we owe a good deal to their method of holding fast to the content of experience and resisting all attempts to explain it away. If, as appears probable, the recent developments of scientific psychology are destined to modify very considerably our views as to the capacity of sensible experience, it may be that the sentimentalists will be found not to have been stranded so far from the main stream of speculation as once was thought. In spite of the development of sociology, social psychology has received very little attention. Utilitarianism and scientific hedonism have proceeded mainly on an individualistic basis, for which the atomism of the sensationalist theory on which they rest is at least partly responsible. There has, it is true, been of recent years quite an Aristotelian reaction in our Universities against atom:sm in political and social theory, but the development of this tendency into a re-examination of the psychological data has so far been rather disappointing. We have been so much engrossed with tracing the historical evolution of institutions from the primitive to the civilized, that we have been rather neglectful of their interpretation, the key to which, even more conspicuously in the theory of practice than in the theory of knowledge, lies in psychological analysis.
Feb i, 1897.
See The True Meaning of the Fable of the Bees, Lond. 1726, 8vo, and Essays towards a Critical Methed, by J M. Robertson, Lond. 1889.
Such as the boundaries of the Kingdom of Bohemia, or the incident of the keyhole in Tristram Shandy.
M. Pattison, Essays, ii, 69, 75.
Mind, vol. xv. no. 60. The following passages contain most of Berkeley's moral theory—Principles, § 100; Passive Obedience, §§ 4–15, 28–34, 41, 42, 53: Alciphrm, Dial. iii. §§ 10, 11. The references are to Fraser's edition.
Leslie Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Ceutury, ii. 2.
M. Pattison, Essays, ii. 82.
Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, §§ 66–73, 173.
Gleen, Froleg §§ 219, 282–83.
Grotius, de Iure Belli, prol. §§ 16.
Cumberland, Laws of Nature, Introd. §§ ix., c. i. §§ 4, ed. Maxwell, 1727.
Dissertation on the Law of Nature, cap i. published as Appendix to the translation of Cumberland. London, 1727.
Herbert Spencer, Data of Ethics, c. 6.
Metaphysic of Morals, Transl. Abbott, §§ 2, p. 39, ed. 3.
Prolegomena, §§ 176–77.
Tyes of Ethical Theory, part ii. c 1. §§ 2, vol. ii. p. 40 f.
Green, Prol. §§ 88 f., 120.
Cf. Cudworth, Of Freewill, p. 71. Ed. Allen, 1838.
Green, Prol. §§ 76–7, 86–9, 108.
Green, Prol. §§ 88.
Kant, Analytic of Pure Practical Reason, transl. Abbott, ed 3, p. 128.
Cf. Bradley, Ethical Studies, p. 25 f.
Green, Prol. § 252 Pal. Obligation, §§ 138–9
Rep. v. 462 of. Green, Proleg. §§ 200–1 Introd. to Hume, ii. §§ 40.
Cf. Herbert Spencer, Data of Ethics, c. 6. § 33 f.
Green, Proleg. §§ 129–130, 222–3.
Utilitarianism, c. 2.
- 18th Century British Moral Philosophy
- Cicero on Friendship
- Cicero on Moral Duties
- Cicero on Old Age
- Confucius: Influence and Doctrines
- Descartes: LIfe & Works
- Emerson on Montaigne
- Epictetus' Philosophy
- Fordyce’s Moral Philosophy
- Herbert Spencer, Principles of Ethics (1887)
- Hobbes' Philosophy
- Hodgskin on the Natural Right to Property (1832)
- Home on Criticism
- Hospers and the Socratic Spirit
- Hume the Pihlosopher
- Hume’s Essays
- Hutcheson and the Passions
- Hutcheson on Liberty and Happiness
- Hutcheson on Logic, Metaphysics & Sociability
- Hutcheson’s Annotated Table of Contents to Philosophiae Moralis
- Hutcheson’s Moral Philosophy
- Kant and Education
- Kant’s Critique of Judgement
- Kant’s Philosophy
- Kant’s Position as a Philosopher
- Maimonides & the Perplexed
- Mencius: Opinions and Influence
- Paley’s Moral Philosophy
- Passmore on the Perfectibility of Man
- Plotinus: A Conspectus of his Philosophy
- Pufendorf on the Duty of Man
- Rhazes’s Spiritual Physic
- Scottish School of Common Sense
- Shaftesbury’s Aesthetics & Moral Philosophy
- Turnbull and Liberal Education
- Upanishads and Philosophy