David Hume on the Perception of Beauty

David Hume (1711-1776) was a moral philosopher, historian, and leading member of the Scottish Enlightenment. In an essay entitled, “Of the Standard of Taste,” included at the end of Part I of the Liberty Fund collection of his essays, Hume outlines his perception-and-contemplation-driven account of judgements concerning taste and beauty:

Frederick Douglass on Religion and Slavery

In the debate over slavery leading up to the Civil War, religious arguments were presented by both proslavery and antislavery spokesmen. In some instances, the same biblical passages were used as evidence in defense of their position, as was the case with The Epistle of Paul to Philemon, as referenced here by Frederick Douglass.

John Calhoun on the Nature and Purpose of Constitutions

John Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government is one of the only theoretical treatises on government written by a prominent American statesman. In it, Calhoun offered some of his more lasting insights on the nature and purpose of constitutionalism.

John Milton’s Advice to Kings

The epic poems of John Milton (1608-1674)–Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes–unite erudite recountings of their biblical subjects with explorations of the complex political landscape of 17th century England. In Paradise Regained, for example, Satan’s temptations lead Jesus to this meditation on the true virtue of kings.

Adam Smith on Good Wine and Free Trade

The Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) was the author of two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). He is best known today for his economic arguments, especially arguments in favour of free trade between nations. In Book IV, Chapter 2 of Wealth of Nations, Smith writes:

John Calhoun on Slavery as a Positive Good

Despite possessing a penetrating mind on matters relating to liberty and constitutional government, John Calhoun’s reputation will always bear the stain of his unflinching defense of the Southern slave society. Sharing the belief, almost as ubiquitous as it was wrong-headed, that white and black could not live freely together, he subscribed to the increasingly widespread view among slaveholders that slavery in the South was a neo-feudal, beneficent institution. This paternalism came out on the Senate floor in 1837.

Adam Smith on the Butcher, the Brewer, and the Baker

The Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) was the author of two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Among the best-known passages in his works is the following from Book I, Chapter 2 of Wealth of Nations:

Thomas Jefferson on Slavery and Liberty

This lengthy passage from the eighteenth chapter of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1787) demands the serious scrutiny of every historian who genuinely wants to understand both the nature of human freedom and its historical meaning. Few paragraphs have delved so frankly and deeply into the effects of slavery to reveal as much as this encapsulation.

Adam Smith on Slavery

This quotation is taken from Smith’s Lectures on Jurisprudence and reflects his own disgust with what he saw as the immoral institution of slavery. It is a good example of the moral philosophy he expounds in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which our sympathy for our fellow human beings forms the basis for moral behavior.

Frederick Douglass on Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Its limited scope, freeing slaves only in those states “in rebellion against the United States,” did not satisfy abolitionists but did infuriate many in the North who were pro-Union but not anti-slavery.

Frederick Douglass on the Ballot Box, the Jury Box, and the Cartridge Box

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, escaped in 1838, and became a leader in the movement for the abolition of slavery. After the Civil War ended, he continued to advocate for the political rights of American Blacks.

Frederick Douglass on Women’s Right to Vote

Frederick Douglass, best known as a strong advocate of the abolition of slavery, was also an early and outspoken supporter for women’s rights in general and especially women’s right to vote.

James Mill on the Nature of Those Who Govern

This quote from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century thinker and journalist, James Mill (1773-1836) expresses the essential point, one that extends back to ancient historical times, that those who are entrusted with setting the rules and protecting the peace of a community, must themselves be kept within the laws of that community.

Jeremy Bentham on the Utility Principle

This quotation is one of the clearest formulations of the implications of what has been called Jeremy Bentham’s “Utility Principle,” which forms the foundation of his entire philosophical architecture.

James Mill on Women and Representative Government

In “Government” (1824) James Mill argued that the benefits of representative government would be lost if the pool of electors did not share the same interests as the general community and asked if a portion of the community could fairly reflect the interests of the whole.

James Mill on Government Power

James Mill wrote a dozen articles for the 1824 Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica, including one on “Government,” which is primarily concerned with the necessity of limiting government power. Before turning to his main theme, however, he offered a thumbnail sketch of the origins of government from a utilitarian perspective.

The Women of Seneca Falls and William Blackstone

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and associates (Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, etc.) argued women should be allowed the right to vote during the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention held at Seneca Falls, New York. They all discussed the basis for the reason they believed that women should have the right to vote. They based it on Blackstone’s Commentaries. Specifically, they reference this quote:

Adam Smith, Employment, and the Advantages to Society

The Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) was the author of two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). In his discussion “Of Restraints upon the importation from Foreign Countries of such Goods as can be produced at Home”, Smith writes the following passage:

Adam Smith on the legitimacy of using force to ensure justice (1759)

Adam Smith (1723-1790) argues that justice is the only virtue which may be imposed by force:

Molinari on mankind’s never-ending struggle for liberty (1849)

The French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) was inspired by mankind’s never-ending struggle for liberty against their oppressors and concluded his book Les Soirées (1849) with this inspiring speech:

The Jesuit priest and political philosopher Edward Bellarmine grapples with the problem of a subject’s obedience to kings or popes (1610)

The Jesuit priest and political philosopher Edward Bellarmine constructs a dialogue between “the people” and “the Pope” in which the Pope thinks of Christ as the Lord who owns the flock of sheep, himself as the shepherd, the people as the “little sheep” at the very bottom, and the Kings who rule over the people are the “rams” who might at any time turn into “wolves”:

Herbert Spencer on the right of political and economic “dissenters” to have their different beliefs and practices respected by the state (1842)

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) argues that political and economic “dissenters” should have the same right as religious dissenters to have their different beliefs and practices respected by the state:

Auberon Herbert’s aim is to destroy the love of power and the desire to use force against others (1897)

The English radical individualist Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) was a member of a group that called themselves “Voluntaryists” who believed in self-ownership and opposed the use of force in all its forms. This is part of an impassioned speech he gave explaining their views:

Thomas Hodgskin on the futility of politicians tinkering with bad laws when the whole political system needed to be changed (1832)

The British naval officer and later radical journalist Thomas Hodgskin (1878-1869) denounced the politicians in Westminster for tinkering endlessly with trying to patch and mend the laws when what was required was a fundamental change in thinking about what government should do:

William Paley dismisses as a fiction the idea that there ever was a binding contract by which citizens consented to be ruled by their government (1785)

The English moral philosopher William Paley (1743-1805) debunks the idea that there ever was a binding “contract” by which the inhabitants of a country ever “consented” to be ruled by their rulers: