Part 4 out of 8
of what really and absolutely is; whose objects are the immutable and
eternal essences and natures of things, and their unchangeable
relations to one another. These _Rationes_ or Verities of things are
_intelligible_. only; are all comprehended in the eternal mind or
intellect of the Deity, and from Him derived to our 'particular
intellects.' They are neither arbitrary nor phantastical--neither
alterable by Will nor changeable by Opinion.
Such eternal and immutable Verities, then, the moral distinctions of
Good and Evil are, in the pauses of the general argument, declared to
be. They, 'as they must have some certain natures which are the actions
or souls of men,' are unalterable by Will or Opinion. 'Modifications of
Mind and Intellect,' they are as much more real and substantial things
than Hard, Soft, Hot, and Cold, modifications of mere senseless
matter--and even so, on the principles of the atomical philosophy,
dependent on the soul for their existence--as Mind itself stands prior
in the order of nature to Matter. In the mind they are as
'anticipations of morality' springing up, not indeed 'from certain
rules or propositions arbitrarily printed on the soul as on a book,'
but from some more inward and vital Principle in intellectual beings,
as such whereby these have within themselves a natural determination to
do some things and to avoid others.
The only other ethical determinations made by Cudworth may thus be
summarized:--Things called _naturally_ Good and Due are such as _the
intellectual nature_ obliges to immediately, absolutely, and
perpetually, and upon no condition of any voluntary action done or
omitted intervening; things _positively_ Good and Due are such as are
in themselves indifferent, but the intellectual nature obliges to them
accidentally or hypothetically, upon condition, in the case of a
command, of some voluntary act of another person invested with lawful
authority, or of one's self, in the case of a specific promise. In a
positive command (as of the civil ruler), what _obliges_ is only the
intellectual nature of him that is commanded, in that he recognizes the
lawful authority of him that commands, and so far determines and
modifies his general duty of obedience as to do an action immaterial in
itself for the sake of the formality of yielding obedience to lawfully
constituted authority. So, in like manner, a specific promise, in
itself immaterial and not enjoined by natural justice, is to be kept
for the sake of the formality of keeping faith, which _is_ enjoined.
Cudworth's work, in which these are nearly all the ethical allusions,
gives no scope for a summary under the various topics.
I.--Specially excluding any such External _Standard_ of moral Good as
the arbitrary Will, either of God or the Sovereign, he views it as a
simple ultimate natural quality of actions or dispositions, as included
among the verities of things, by the side of which the phenomena of
Sense are unreal.
II.--The general Intellectual Faculty cognizes the moral verities,
which it contains within itself and brings rather than finds.
III.--He does not touch upon Happiness; probably he would lean to
asceticism. He sets up no moral code.
IV.--Obligation to the Positive Civil Laws in matters indifferent
follows from the intellectual recognition of the established relation
between ruler and subject.
V.--Morality is not dependent upon the Deity in any other sense than
the whole frame of things is.
SAMUEL CLARKE. [1675-1729.]
Clarke put together his two series of Boyle Lectures (preached 1704 and
1705) as 'A Discourse, concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the
Obligations of Natural Religion and the Truth and Certainty of the
Christian Revelation,' in answer to Hobbes, Spinoza, &c. The burden of
the ethical discussion falls under the head of the Obligations of
Natural Religion, in the second series.
He enounces this all-comprehensive proposition: 'The same necessary and
eternal different Relations that different Things bear one to another,
and the same consequent Fitness or Unfitness of the application of
different things or different relations one to another, with regard to
which the will of God always and necessarily does determine itself to
choose to act only what is agreeable to Justice, Equity, Goodness, and
Truth, in order to the welfare of the whole universe--ought likewise
constantly to determine the Wills of all subordinate rational beings,
to govern all their actions by the same rules, for the good of the
public, in their respective stations. That is, these eternal and
necessary differences of things make it fit and reasonable for
creatures so to act; they cause it to be their duty, or lay an
obligation on them so to do; even separate from the consideration of
these Rules being the positive Will or Command of God, and also
antecedent to any respect or regard, expectation or apprehension of any
particular private and personal Advantage or Disadvantage, Reward or
Punishment, either present or future, annexed either by natural
consequence, or by positive appointment, to the practising or
neglecting of these rules. In the explication of this, nearly his whole
system is contained.
His first concern is to impress the fact that there are necessary and
eternal differences of ail things, and implied or consequent relations
(proportions or disproportions) existing amongst them; and to bring
under this general head the special case of differences of Persons
(e.g., God and Man, Man and Fellow-man), for the sake of the
implication that to different persons there belong peculiar _Fitnesses_
and _Unfitnesses_ of circumstances; or, which is the same thing, that
there arises necessarily amongst them a suitableness or unsuitableness
of certain manners of Behaviour. The counter-proposition that he
contends against is, that the relations among persons depend upon
_positive constitution_ of some kind, instead of being founded
unchangeably in _the nature and reason of things_.
Next he shows how, in the rational or intellectual recognition of
naturally existent relations amongst things (he always means persons
chiefly), there is contained an obligation. When God, in his
Omniscience and absolute freedom from error, is found determining his
Will always according to this eternal reason of things, it is very
unreasonable and blameworthy in the intelligent creatures whom he has
made so far like himself, not to govern their actions by the same
eternal rule of Reason, but to suffer themselves to depart from it
through negligent _misunderstanding_ or wilful _passion_. Herein lies
obligation: a man _ought_ to act according to the Law of Reason,
because he can as little refrain from _assenting_ to the reasonableness
and fitness of guiding his actions by it, as refuse his assent to a
geometrical demonstration when he understands the terms. The original
obligation of all is the eternal Reason of Things; the sanction of
Rewards and Punishments (though 'truly the most effectual means of
keeping creatures in their duty') is only a secondary and additional
obligation. Proof of his position he finds in men's judgment of their
own actions, better still in their judgments of others' actions, best
of all in their judgment of injuries inflicted on themselves. Nor does
any objection hold from the ignorance of savages in matters of
morality: they are equally ignorant of the plainest mathematical
truths; the need of instruction does not take away the necessary
difference of moral Good and Evil, any more than it takes away the
necessary proportions of numbers. He, then, instead of deducing all our
several duties as he might, contents himself with mentioning the three
great branches of them, (_a_) Duties in respect of _God_, consisting of
sentiments and acts (Veneration, Love, Worship, &c.) called forth by
the consideration of his attributes, and having a character of Fitness
far beyond any that is visible in applying _equal_ geometrical figures
to one another, (_b_) Duties in respect of our _Fellow-creatures:_ (1)
Justice and Equity, the doing as we would be done by. Iniquity is the
very same in Action, as Falsity or Contradiction in Theory; what makes
the one _absurd_ makes the other _unreasonable_; 'it would be
impossible for men not to be as much (!) ashamed of _doing Iniquity_,
as they are of _believing Contradictions_;' (2) _Universal Love or
Benevolence_, the promoting the welfare or happiness of all, which is
obligatory on various grounds: the Good being the fit and reasonable,
the greatest Good is the _most_ fit and reasonable; by this God's
action is determined, and so ought ours; no Duty affords a more ample
pleasure; besides having a 'certain natural affection' for those most
closely connected with us, we desire to multiply affinities, which
means to found society, for the sake of the more comfortable life that
mutual good offices bring. [This is a very confused deduction of an
_obligation_.'] (c) Duties in respect to our _Selves_, viz.,
_self-preservation, temperance, contentment, &c._; for not being
authors of our being, we have no just power or authority to take it
away directly, or, by abuse of our faculties, indirectly.
After expatiating in a rhetorical strain on the eternal, universal, and
absolutely unchangeable character of the law of Nature or Right Reason,
he specifies the sense wherein the eternal moral obligations are
independent of the will of God himself; it comes to this, that,
although God makes all things and the relations between them, nothing
is holy and good because he commands it, but he commands it because it
is holy and good. Finally, he expounds the relation of Reward and
Punishment to the law of Nature; the obligation of it is before and
distinct from these; but, while full of admiration for the Stoical idea
of the self-sufficiency of virtue, he is constrained to add that 'men
never will generally, and indeed 'tis not very reasonably to be
expected they should, part with all the comforts of life, and even life
itself, without any expectation of a future recompense.' The 'manifold
absurdities' of Hobbes being first exposed, he accordingly returns, in
pursuance of the theological argument of his Lectures, to show that the
eternal moral obligations, founded on the natural differences of
things, are at the same time the express will and command of God to all
rational creatures, and must necessarily and certainly be attended with
Rewards and Punishments in a future state.
The summary of Clarke's views might stand thus:--
I.--The STANDARD is a certain Fitness of action between persons,
implicated in their nature as much as any fixed proportions between
numbers or other relation among things. Except in such an expression as
this, moral good admits of no kind of external reference.
II.--There is very little Psychology involved. The Faculty is the
Reason; its action a case of mere intellectual apprehension. The
element of Feeling is nearly excluded. Disinterested sentiment is so
minor a point as to call forth only the passing allusion to 'a certain
III.--Happiness is not considered except in a vague reference to good
public and private as involved with Fit and Unfit action.
IV.--His account of Duties is remarkable only for the consistency of
his attempt to find parallels for each amongst intellectual relations.
The climax intended in the assimilation of Injustice to Contradictions
is a very anti-climax; if people were only '_as much_' ashamed of doing
injustice as of believing contradictions, the moral order of the world
would be poorly provided for.
V.--The relation of Ethics to Politics is hardly touched. Society is
born of the desire to multiply affinities through mutual interchange of
VI.--His Ethical disquisition is only part of a Theological argument;
and this helps to explain his assertion of the Independence as well as
of the Insufficiency of Morality. The final outcome of the discussion
is that Morality needs the support of Revelation. But, to get from this
an argument for the truth of Revelation, it is necessary that morality
should have an independent foundation in the nature of things, apart
from any direct divine appointment.
WILLIAM WOLLASTON (1659-1724), author of the 'Religion of Nature
Delineated,' is usually put into the same class of moralists with
Clarke. With him, a _bad_ action (whether of commission or omission)
contains the denial of a true proposition. Truth can be denied by
actions as well as by words. Thus, the violation of a contract is the
denial by an action that the contract has been concluded. Robbing a
traveller is the denial that what you take from him is his. An action
that denies one or more true propositions cannot be good, and is
necessarily bad. A _good_ action is one whose omission would be bad or
whose contrary is bad, in the above sense. An _indifferent_ action is
one that can be omitted or done without contradicting any truth.
Reason, the judge of what is true and false, is the only faculty
concerned; but, at the same time, Wollaston makes large reference to
the subject of Happiness, finding it to consist in an excess of
pleasures as compared with pains. He holds that his doctrine is in
conformity with all the facts. It affirms a progressive morality, that
keeps pace with and depend upon the progress of Science. It can explain
_errors_ in morals as distinct from vice. An error is the affirmation
by an action of a false proposition, thought to be true; the action is
bad, but the agent is innocent.
JOHN LOCKE. [1632-1704.]
Locke did not apply himself to the consecutive evolution of an Ethical
theory; whence his views, although on the whole sufficiently
unmistakeable, are not always reconcileable with one another.
In Book I. of the 'Essay on the Understanding' he devotes himself to
the refutation of Innate Ideas, whether Speculative or Practical. Chap.
III. is on the alleged Innate Practical Principles, or rules of Right
and Wrong. The objections urged against these Principles have scarcely
been added to, and have never been answered. We shall endeavour to
indicate the heads of the reasoning.
1. The Innate Practical Principles are for the most part not
self-evident; they are, in this respect, not on an equal footing with
the Speculative Principles whose innate origin is also disputed. They
require reasoning and explanation in order to be understood. Many men
are ignorant of them, while others assent to them slowly, if they do
assent to them; all which is at variance with their being innate.
2. There is no Practical Principle universally received among mankind.
All that can be said of Justice is that _most men_ agree to recognize
it. It is vain to allege of confederacies of thieves, that they keep
faith with one another; for this keeping of faith is merely for their
own convenience. We cannot call that a sense of Justice which merely
binds a man to a certain number of his fellow-criminals, in order the
more effectually to plunder and kill honest men. Instead of Justice, it
is the essential condition of success in Injustice.
If it be said in reply, that these men tacitly assent in their minds to
what their practice contradicts, Locke answers, first, that men's
actions must be held as the best interpreters of their thoughts; and if
many men's practices, and some men's open professions, have been
opposed to these principles, we cannot conclude them to be Innate.
Secondly, It is difficult for us to assent to Innate Practical
Principles, ending only in contemplation. Such principles either
influence our conduct, or they are nothing. There is no mistake as to
the Innate principles of the desire of happiness, and aversion to
misery; these do not stop short in tacit assent, but urge every man's
conduct every hour of his life. If there were anything corresponding to
these in the sense of Right and Wrong, we should have no dispute about
3. There is no Moral rule, that may not have a reason demanded for it;
which ought not to be the case with any innate principle. That we
should do as we would be done by, is the foundation of all morality,
and yet, if proposed to any one for the first time, might not such an
one, without absurdity, ask a reason why? But this would imply that
there is some deeper principle for it to repose upon, capable of being
assigned as its motive; that it is not ultimate, and therefore not
innate. That men should observe compacts is a great and undeniable
rule, yet, in this, a Christian would give as reason the command of
God; a Hobbist would say that the public requires it, and would punish
for disobeying it; and an old heathen philosopher would have urged that
it was opposed to human virtue and perfection.
Bound up with this consideration, is the circumstance that moral rules
differ among men, according to their views of happiness. The existence
of God, and our obedience to him, are manifest in many ways, and are
the true ground of morality, seeing that only God can call to account
every offender; yet, from the union of virtue and public happiness, all
men have recommended the practice of what is for their own obvious
advantage. There is quite enough in this self-interest to cause moral
rules to be enforced by men that care neither for the supreme Lawgiver,
nor for the Hell ordained by him to punish transgressors.
After all, these great principles of morality are more commended than
practised. As to Conscience checking us in these breaches, making them
fewer than they would otherwise be, men may arrive at such a
conscience, or self-restraining sentiment, in other ways than by an
innate endowment. Some men may come to assent to moral rules from a
knowledge of their value as means to ends. Others may take up the same
view as a part of their education. However the persuasion is come by,
it will serve as a conscience; which conscience is nothing else than
our own opinion of the rectitude or pravity of our actions.
How could men with serenity and confidence transgress rules stamped
upon their inmost soul? Look at the practices of nations civilized and
uncivilized; at the robberies, murders, rapes of an army sacking a
town; at the legalized usages of nations, the destruction of infants
and of aged parents for personal convenience; cannibalism; the most
monstrous forms of unchastity; the fashionable murder named Duelling.
Where are the innate principles of Justice, Piety, Gratitude, Equity,
If we read History, and cast our glance over the world, we shall
scarcely find any rule of Morality (excepting such as are necessary to
hold society together, and these too with great limitations) but what
is somewhere or other set aside, and an opposite established, by whole
societies of men. Men may break a law without disowning it; but it is
inconceivable that a whole nation should publicly reject and renounce
what every one of them, certainly and infallibly, knows to be a law.
Whatever practical principle is innate, must be known to every one to
be just and good. The generally allowed breach of any rule anywhere
must be held to prove that it is not innate. If there be any rule
having a fair claim to be imprinted by nature, it is the rule that
Parents should preserve and cherish their children. If such a principle
be innate, it must be found regulating practice everywhere; or, at the
lowest, it must be known and assented to. But it is very far from
having been uniformly practised, even among enlightened nations. And as
to its being an innate truth, known to all men, that also is untrue.
Indeed, the terms of it are not intelligible without other knowledge.
The statement, 'it is the duty of parents to preserve their children,'
cannot be understood without a Law; a Law requires a Lawmaker, and
Reward or Punishment. And as punishment does not always follow in this
life, nothing less than a recognition of Divine Law will suffice; in
other words, there must be intuitions of God, Law, Obligation,
Punishment, and a Future Life: every one of which may be, and is,
deemed to be innate.
It is incredible that men, if all these things were stamped on their
minds, could deliberately offend against them; still more, that rulers
should silently connive at such transgressions.
4. The supporters of innate principles are unable to point out
distinctly what they are. Yet, if these were imprinted on the mind,
there could be no more doubt about them than about the number of our
fingers. We well know that, if men of different sects were to write out
their respective lists, they would set down exactly such as suited
their several schools or churches.
There is, Locke remarks, a ready, but not very material, answer to his
objections, namely, that the innate principles may, by Education and
Custom, be darkened and worn out of men's minds. But this takes away at
once the argument from universal consent, and leaves nothing but what
each party thinks should pass for universal consent, namely, their own
private persuasion: a method whereby a set of men presuming themselves
to be the only masters of right reason, put aside the votes and
opinions of the rest of mankind. Thus, notwithstanding the innate
light, we are as much in the dark as if it did not exist; a rule that
will warp any way is not to be distinguished amidst its contraries. If
these rules are so liable to vary, through adventitious notions, we
should find them clearest in children and in persons wholly illiterate.
He grants that there are many opinions, received by men of different
countries, educations, and tempers, and held as unquestionable first
principles; but then the absurdity of some, and the mutual
contradiction of others, make it impossible that they should be all
true. Yet it will often happen that these men will sooner part with
their lives, than suffer the truth of their opinions to be questioned.
We can see from our experience how the belief in principles grows up.
Doctrines, with no better original than the superstition of a nurse, or
the authority of an old woman, may in course of time, and by the
concurrence of neighbours, grow up to the dignity of first truths in
Religion and in Morality. Persons matured under those influences, and,
looking into their own minds, find nothing anterior to the opinions
taught them before they kept a record of themselves; they, therefore,
without scruple, conclude that those propositions whose origin they
cannot trace are the impress of God and nature upon their minds. Such a
result is unavoidable in the circumstances of the bulk of mankind, who
require some foundation of principles to rest upon, and have no means
of obtaining them but on trust from others. _Custom is it greater power
than Nature_, and, while we are yet young, seldom fails to make us
worship as divine what she has inured us to; nor is it to be wondered
at, that, when we come to mature life, and are engrossed with quite
different matters, we are indisposed to sit down and examine all our
received tenets, to find ourselves in the wrong, to run counter to the
opinions of our country or party, and to be branded with such epithets
as whimsical, sceptical, Atheist. It is inevitable that we should take
up at first borrowed principles; and unless we have all the faculties
and the means of searching into their foundations, we naturally go on
to the end as we have begun.
In the following chapter (IV.), he argues the general question of
Innate Ideas in the case of the Idea of God.
In Book II., Chap. XXI., Locke discusses the freedom of the will, with
some allusions to the nature of happiness and the causes of wrong
conduct. Happiness is the utmost pleasure we are capable of, misery the
utmost pain; pleasure and pain define Good and Evil. In practice, we
are chiefly occupied in getting rid of troubles; absent good does not
much move us. All uneasiness being removed, a moderate portion of good
contents us; and some few degrees of pleasure in a succession of
ordinary enjoyments are enough to make happiness. [Epicurus, and others
among the ancients, said as much.]
Men have wrong desires, and do wrong acts, but it is from wrong
judgments. They never mistake a present pleasure or pain; they always
act correctly upon that. They are the victims of deceitful appearances;
they make wrong judgments in comparing present with future pains, such
is the weakness of the mind's constitution in this department. Our
wrong judgments proceed partly from ignorance and partly from
inadvertence, and our preference of vice to virtue is accounted for by
these wrong judgments.
Chap. XXVIII. discusses Moral Relations. Good and Evil are nothing but
Pleasure and Pain, and what causes them. Moral Good or Evil is the
conformity or unconformity of our voluntary actions to some Law,
entailing upon us good or evil by the will and power of the Law-giver,
to which good and evil we apply the names Reward and Punishment.
There are three sorts of Moral Rules: 1st, The Divine Law, whether
promulgated by the Light of Nature or by Revelation, and enforced by
rewards and punishments in a future life. This law, when ascertained,
is the touchstone of moral rectitude. 2nd, The Civil Law, or the Law of
the State, supported by the penalties of the civil judge. 3rd, The Law
of Opinion or Reputation. Even after resigning, to public authority,
the disposal of the public force, men still retain the power of
privately approving or disapproving actions, according to their views
of virtue and vice. The being commended or dispraised by our fellows
may thus be called the sanction of Reputation, a power often surpassing
in efficacy both the other sanctions.
Morality is the reference of all actions to one or other of these three
Laws. Instead of applying innate notions of good and evil, the mind,
having been taught the several rules enjoined by these authorities,
compares any given action with these rules, and pronounces accordingly.
A rule is an aggregate of simple Ideas; so is an action; and the
conformity required is the ordering of the action so that the simple
ideas belonging to it may correspond to those required by the law.
Thus, all Moral Notions may be reduced to the simple ideas gained by
the two leading sources--Sensation and Reflection. Murder is an
aggregate of simple ideas, traceable in the detail to these sources.
The summary of Locke's views is as follows:--
I.--With reference to the Standard of Morality, we have these two great
First, That the production of pleasure and pain to sentient beings is
the ultimate foundation of moral good and evil.
Secondly, That morality is a system of Law, enacted by one or other of
three different authorities.
II.--In the Psychology of Ethics, Locke, by implication, holds--
First, That there is no innate moral sentiment; that our moral ideas
are the generalities of moral actions. That our faculties of moral
discernment are--(1) those that discern the pleasures and pains of
mankind; and (2), those that comprehend and interpret the laws of God,
the Nation, and Public Opinion. And (3) he counts that the largest
share in the formation of our Moral Sentiments is due to Education and
[We have seen his views on Free-will, p. 413.]
As regards the nature of Disinterested Action, he pronounces no
definite opinion. He makes few attempts to analyze the emotional and
active part of our nature.
III.--His Summum Bonum is stated generally as the procuring of Pleasure
and the avoiding of Pain.
IV.--He has no peculiar views on the Moral Code, or on the enforcements
V.--The connexion of Ethics with Politics is, in him, the assimilating
of Morality to Law.
VI.--With reference to Theology, he considers that, by the exercise of
the Reason, we may discover the existence and attributes of God, and
our duties to him; his ascertained will is the highest moral rule, the
true touchstone of Moral Rectitude.
JOSEPH BUTLER. [1692-1752.]
Butler's Ethical System may be found--First, in a short Dissertation on
Virtue, appended to the Analogy; secondly, and chiefly, in his first
three Sermons, entitled 'Human Nature;' thirdly, in other Sermons, as
(V.) on Compassion, and (XL) on Benevolence. Various illustrations of
Ethical doctrine are interspersed through the Analogy, as in Part I.,
Chap. 2, entitled 'the government of God by rewards and punishments.'
The Dissertation on Virtue is intended to vindicate, in man, the
existence of a moral nature, apart from both Prudence and Benevolence.
A moral government supposes a moral nature in man, or a power of
distinguishing right from wrong. All men and all systems agree as to
the fact of moral perceptions.
As characteristics of these moral perceptions, it is to be
noted--First, they refer to voluntary actions. Secondly, they are
accompanied with the feelings of good or of ill desert, which good or
ill desert is irrespective of the good of society. Thirdly, the
perception of ill desert has regard to the capacities of the agent.
Fourthly, Prudence, or regard to ourselves, is a fair subject of moral
approbation, and imprudence of the contrary. Our own self-interest
seems to require strengthening by other men's manifested pleasure and
displeasure. Still, this position is by no means indisputable, and the
author is willing to give up the words 'virtue' and 'vice,' as
applicable to prudence and folly; and to contend merely that our moral
faculty is not indifferent to this class of actions. Fifthly, Virtue is
not wholly resolvable into Benevolence (that is, the general good, or
Utility). This is shown by the fact that our approbation is not in
proportion to the amount of happiness flowing from an action [he means
_immediately_ flowing, which does not decide the question]. We
disapprove of falsehood, injustice, and unprovoked violence, even
although more happiness would result from them than from the contrary.
Moreover, we are not always judges of the whole consequences of acting.
Undoubtedly, however, benevolence is our duty, if there be no moral
principle to oppose it.
The title 'Human Nature,' given to Butler's chief Ethical exposition,
indicates that he does not take an _a priori_ view of the foundations
of Ethics, like Cudworth and Clarke, but makes them repose on the
constitution of the human mind.
In Sermon first, he lays out the different parts of our Emotional and
Active nature, including Benevolence, Self-love, Conscience. The
recognition of these three as distinct, and mutually irresolvable, is
the Psychological basis of his Ethics.
The existence of pure or disinterested Benevolence is proved by such
facts, as Friendship, Compassion, Parental and Filial affections,
Benevolent impulses to mankind generally. But although the object of
benevolence is the public good, and of self-love private good, yet the
two ultimately coincide. [This questionable assertion must trammel any
proof that the author can give of our possessing purely disinterested
In a long note, he impugns the theory of Hobbes that Benevolent
affection and its pleasures are merely a form of the love of Power. He
maintains, and with reason, that the love of power manifests its
consequences quite as much in cruelty as in benevolence.
The second argument, to show that Benevolence is a fact of our
constitution, involves the greatest peculiarity of Butler's Psychology,
although he was not the first to announce it. The scheme of the human
feelings comprehends, in addition to Benevolence and Self-Love, a
number of passions and affections tending to the same ends as these
(some to the good of our fellows, others to our own good); while in
following them we are not conscious of seeking those ends, but some
different ends. Such are our various Appetites and Passions. Thus,
hunger promotes our private well-being, but in obeying its dictates we
are not thinking of that object, but of the procuring of _food_.
Curiosity promotes both public and private good, but its direct and
immediate object is _knowledge_.
This refined distinction appears first in Aquinas; there is in it a
palpable confusion of ideas. If we regard the final impulse of hunger,
it is not toward the food, but towards the appeasing of a pain and the
gaining of a pleasure, which are certainly identical with self, being
the definition of self in the last resort. We associate the food with
the gratification of these demands, and hence food becomes an end to
us--one of the _associated_ or _intermediate_ ends. So the desire of
knowledge is the desire of the pleasure, or of the relief from pain,
accruing from knowledge; while, as in the case of food, knowledge is to
a great degree only an instrument, and therefore an intermediate and
associated end. So the desire of esteem is the desire of a pleasure, or
else of the instrument of pleasure.
In short, Butler tries, without effect, to evade the general principles
of the will--our being moved exclusively by pleasure and pain. Abundant
reference has been already made to the circumstances that modify in
appearance, or in reality, the operation of this principle. The
distinction between self-love and the particular appetites, passions,
and affections, is mainly the distinction between a great aggregate of
the reason (the total interests of our being) and the separate items
that make it up.
The distinction is intended to prepare the way for the setting forth of
Conscience, which is called a 'principle of reflection in men,
whereby they distinguish between, approve and disapprove, their own
actions.' This principle has for its result the good of society; still,
in following it, we are not conscious of aiming at the good of society.
A father has an affection for his children; this is one thing. He has
also a principle of reflection, that urges him with added force and
with more steady persistency than any affection, which principle must
therefore be different from mere affection.
Butler's analysis of the human feelings is thus: I.--Benevolence and
Self-love. II.--The particular Appetites, Passions, and Affections,
operating in the same direction as Benevolence and Self-love, but
without intending it. III.--Conscience, of which the same is to be
His reply to the objection,--against our being made for
Benevolence,--founded on our mischievous propensities, is, that in the
same way there are tendencies mischievous to ourselves, and yet no one
denies us the possession of self-love. He remarks farther that these
evil tendencies are the abuse of such as are right; ungovernable
passion, reckless pursuit of our own good, and not pure malevolence,
are the causes of injustice and the other vices.
In short, we are made for pursuing both our own good and the good of
others; but present gratifications and passing inclinations interfere
alike with both objects.
Sermons II., III., are meant to establish, from our moral nature, the
Supremacy of Conscience.
Our moral duties may be deduced from the scheme of our nature, which
shows the design of the Deity. There may be some difficulties attending
the deduction, owing to the want of uniformity in the human
constitution. Still, the broad feelings of the mind, and the purpose of
them, can no more be mistaken than the existence and the purpose of the
eyes. It can be made quite apparent that the single principle called
conscience is intended to rule all the rest.
But, as Conscience is only one part of our nature, there being two
other parts, namely, (1) Benevolence and Self-love, and (2) the
particular Appetites and Passions, why are they not all equally
natural, and all equally to be followed?
This leads to an inquiry into the meanings of the word Nature.
First, Nature may mean any prompting whatever; anger and affection are
equally natural, as being equally part of us.
Secondly, it may mean our strongest passion, what most frequently
prevails with us and shows our individual characters. In this sense,
vice may be natural.
But, thirdly, we may reclaim against those two meanings, and that on
the authority both of the Apostle Paul and of the ancient sages, and
declare that the proper meaning of following nature is following
Conscience, or that superior principle in every man which bears
testimony to its own supremacy. It is by this faculty, natural to a
man, that he is a moral agent, a law to himself.
Men may act according to their strongest principle, and yet violate
their nature, as when a man, urged by present gratification, incurs
certain ruin. The violation of nature, in this instance, may be
expressed as _disproportion_.
There is thus a difference in _kind_ between passions; self-love is
superior to temporary appetite.
Passion or Appetite means a tendency towards certain objects with no
regard to any other objects. Reflection or Conscience steps in to
protect the interests that these would lead us to sacrifice. Surely,
therefore, this would be enough to constitute superiority. Any other
passion taking the lead is a case of usurpation.
We can hardly form a notion of Conscience without this idea of
superiority. Had it might, as it has right, it would govern the world.
Were there no such supremacy, all actions would be on an equal footing.
Impiety, profaneness, and blasphemy would be as suitable as reverence;
parricide would justify itself by the right of the strongest.
Hence human nature is made up of a number of propensities in union with
this ruling principle; and as, in civil government, the constitution is
infringed by strength prevailing over authority, so the nature of man
is violated when the lower faculties triumph over conscience. Man has a
rule of right within, if he will honestly attend to it. Out of this
arrangement, also, springs Obligation; the law of conscience is the law
of our nature. It carries its authority with it; it is the guide
assigned by the Author of our nature.
He then replies to the question, 'Why should we be concerned about
anything out of or beyond ourselves?' Supposing we do possess in our
nature a regard to the well-being of others, why may we not set that
aside as being in our way to our own good.
The answer is, We cannot obtain our own good without having regard to
others, and undergoing the restraints prescribed by morality. There is
seldom any inconsistency between our duty and our interest. Self-love,
in the present world, coincides with virtue. If there are any
exceptions, all will be set right in the final distribution of things.
Conscience and self-love, if we understand our true happiness, always
lead us the same way.
Such is a brief outline of the celebrated 'Three Sermons on Human
Nature.' The radical defect of the whole scheme lies in its
Psychological basis. Because we have, as mature human beings, in
civilized society, a principle of action called Conscience, which we
recognize as distinct from Self-love and Benevolence, as well as from
the Appetites and Passions, Butler would make us believe that this is,
from the first, a distinct principle of our nature. The proper reply is
to analyze Conscience; showing at the same time, from its very great
discrepancies in different minds, that it is a growth, or product,
corresponding to the education and the circumstances of each, although
of course involving the common elements of the mind.
In his Sermons on Compassion (V., VI.), he treats this as one of the
Affections in his second group of the Feelings (Appetites, Passions,
and Affections); vindicates its existence against Hobbes, who treated
it as an indirect mode of self-regard; and shows its importance in
human life, as an adjunct to Rational Benevolence and Conscience.
In discussing Benevolence (Sermon XII.) Butler's object is to show that
it is not ultimately at variance with Self-love. In the introductory
observations, he adverts to the historical fact, that vice and folly
take different turns in different ages, and that the peculiarity of his
own age is 'to profess a contracted spirit, and greater regards to
self-interest' than formerly. He accommodates his preaching of virtue
to this characteristic of his time, and promises that _there shall be
all possible concessions made to the favourite passion_.
His mode of arguing is still the same as in the sermons on Human
Nature. Self-love does not comprehend our whole being; it is only one
principle among many. It is characterized by a _subjective_ end, the
_feeling_ of happiness; but we have other ends of the objective kind,
the ends of our appetites, passions, and affections--food, injury to
another, good to another, &c. The total happiness of our being includes
all our ends. Self-love attends only to one interest, and if we are too
engrossed with that, we may sacrifice other interests, and narrow the
sphere of our happiness. A certain disengagement of mind is necessary
to enjoyment, and the intensity of pursuit interferes with this. [This
is a true remark, but misapplied; external pursuit may be so intense as
nearly to do away with subjective consciousness, and therefore with
pleasure; but this applies more to _objective_ ends,--wealth, the
interest of others--than to self-love, which is in its nature
Now, what applies to the Appetites and Affections applies to
Benevolence; it is a distinct motive or urgency, and should have its
scope like every other propensity, in order to happiness.
Such is his reasoning, grounded on his peculiar Psychology. He then
adduces the ordinary arguments to show, that seeking the good of others
is a positive gratification in itself, and fraught with pleasure in its
In summary, Butler's views stand thus:--
I.--His Standard of Right and Wrong is the subjective Faculty, called
by him Reflection, or Conscience. He assumes such an amount of
uniformity in human beings, in regard to this Faculty, as to settle all
questions that arise.
II.--His Psychological scheme is the threefold division of the mind
already brought out; Conscience being one division, and a distinct and
primitive element of our constitution.
He has no Psychology of the Will; nor does he anywhere inquire into the
problem of Liberty and Necessity.
He maintains the existence of Disinterested Benevolence, by saying that
Disinterested action, as opposed to direct self-regard, is a much wider
fact of our mental system, than the regard to the welfare of others. We
have seen that this is a mere stroke of ingenuity, and owes its
plausible appearance to his making our associated ends the primary ends
of our being.
III.--With regard to the Summum Bonum, or the theory of Happiness, he
holds that men cannot be happy by the pursuit of mere self; but must
give way to their benevolent impulses as well, all under the guidance
of conscience. In short, virtue is happiness, even in this world; and,
if there be any exception to the rule, it will be rectified in another
world. This is in fact the Platonic view. Men are not to pursue
happiness; that would be to fall into the narrow rut of self-love, and
would be a failure; they are to pursue virtue, including the good of
others, and the greatest happiness will ensue to each.
It is a remarkable indication of the spirit of Butler's age, or of his
estimate of it, that he would never venture to require of any one a
single act of uncompensated self-sacrifice.
IV.--The substance of the Moral Code of Butler is in no respect
peculiar to him. He gives no classification of our duties. His means
and inducements to virtue have just been remarked upon.
V.--The relationship of Ethics to Politics and to Theology needs no
FRANCIS HUTCHESON. [1694-1747.]
Hutcheson's views are to be found in his 'Inquiry into the Ideas of
Beauty and Virtue,' his 'Treatise on the Passions,' and his posthumous
work, 'A System of Moral Philosophy.' The last-mentioned, as the
completest exposition of his Ethics, Speculative and Practical, is
There are three books; the first treating of Human Nature and
Happiness; the second, of Laws of Nature and Duties, previous to Civil
Government and other adventitious states; the third, of Civil Polity.
In Book I., Chap. I., Hutcheson states that the aim of Moral Philosophy
is to point out the course of action that will best promote the highest
happiness and perfection of men, by the light of human nature and to
the exclusion of revelation; thus to indicate the rules of conduct that
make up the Law of Nature. Happiness, the end of this art, being the
state of the mind arising from its several grateful perceptions or
modifications, the natural course of the inquiry is to consider the
various human powers, perceptions, and actions, and then to compare
them so as to find what really constitutes happiness, and how it may be
attained. The principles that first display themselves in childhood are
the external senses, with some small powers of spontaneous motion,
introducing to the mind perceptions of pleasure and pain, which
becoming forthwith the object of desire and aversion, are our first
notions of natural good and evil. Next to Ideas of Sensation, we
acquire Concomitant ideas of Sensation from two or more senses
together--number, extension, &c. Ideas of consciousness or reflection,
which is another natural power of perception, complete the list of the
materials of knowledge; to which, when the powers of judging and
reasoning are added, all the main acts of the understanding are given.
There are still, however, some finer perceptions, that may be left over
until the will is disposed of.
Under the head of Will, he notes first the facts of Desire and
Aversion, being new motions of the soul, distinct from, though arising
out of, sensations, perceptions, and judgments. To these it is common
to add Joy and Sorrow, arising in connexion with desire, though they
partake more of sensations than of volitions. Acts of the will are
_selfish_ or _benevolent_, according as one's own good, or (as often
really in fact happens) the good of others is pursued. Two _calm_
natural determinations of the will are to be conceded; the one an
invariable constant impulse towards one's own highest perfection and
happiness; the other towards the universal happiness of others, when
the whole system of beings is regarded without prejudice, and in the
absence of the notion that their happiness interferes with our own.
There are also _turbulent_ passions and appetites, whose end is their
simple gratification; whereupon the violence and uneasiness cease. Some
are selfish--hunger, lust, power, fame; some benevolent--pity,
gratitude, parental affection, &c.; others may be of either
kind--anger, envy, &c. In none of them is there any reference in the
mind to the greatest happiness of self or others; and that they stand
so often in real opposition to the calm motions, is sufficient proof of
their distinct character, _e.g._, the opposition of lust and calm
regard for one's highest interest.
In Chapter II., he takes up some finer powers of perception, and some
other natural determinations of the will. Bound up with seeing and
hearing are certain other powers of perception or senses--Beauty,
Imitation, Harmony, Design, summed up by Addison under the name of
Imagination, and all natural sources of pleasure. The two grateful
perceptions of Novelty and Grandeur may be added to the list of natural
determinations or senses of pleasure. To attempt to reduce the natural
sense of Beauty to the discernment of real or apparent usefulness is
hopeless. The next sense of the soul noted is the Sympathetic, in its
two Phases of Pity or Compassion and Congratulation. This is
fellow-feeling on apprehending the state of others, and proneness to
relieve, without any thought of our own advantage, as seen in children.
Pity is stronger than congratulation, because, whether for ourselves or
others, the desire to repel evil is stronger than to pursue good.
Sympathy extends to all the affections and passions; it greatly
subserves the grand determination of the soul towards universal
Other finer senses have actions of men for their objects, there being a
general determination of the soul to exercise all its active powers,--a
universal impulse to action, bodily and intellectual. In all such
action there is real pleasure, but the grand source of human happiness
is the power of perceiving the _moral_ notions of actions and
characters. This, the _Moral Sense_, falls to be fully discussed later.
Distinct from our moral sense is the _Sense of Honour or Shame_, when
we are praised or condemned by others. The _Sense of Decency or
Dignity_, when the mind perceives excellence of bodily and mental
powers in ourselves or others, is also natural, and distinct from the
moral sense. Some would allow a natural Sense of the Ridiculous in
objects or events. There follow some remarks on the tendency to
associate perceptions. In addition also to the natural propensity
towards action, there is a tendency in repeated action to become Habit,
whereby our powers are greatly increased. Habit and Customs can raise,
however, no new ideas beyond the sentiments naturally excited by the
_Sexual_ desire, wisely postponed by nature beyond the earliest years,
does not, in man, end in mere sensual pleasure, but involves a natural
liking of beauty as an indication of temper and manners, whereupon grow
up esteem and love. Mankind have a universal desire of _offspring_, and
love for their young; also an affection, though weaker, for all
blood-relations. They have, further, a natural impulse to _society_
with their fellows, as an immediate principle, and are not driven to
associate only by indigence. All the other principles already
mentioned, having little or no exercise in solitude, would bring them
together, even without family ties. Patriotism and love of country are
acquired in the midst of social order.
_Natural Religion_ inevitably springs up in the best minds at sight of
the benevolent order of the world, and is soon diffused among all. The
principles now enumerated will be found, though in varying proportions,
among all men not plainly monstrous by accident, &c.
Chapter III. treats of the Ultimate Determinations of the Will and
Benevolent Affections. The question now is to find some order and
subordination among the powers that have been cited, and to discover
the ultimate ends of action, about which there is no reasoning. He
notices various systems that make calm self-love the one leading
principle of action, and specially the system that, allowing the
existence of particular disinterested affections, puts the
self-satisfaction felt in yielding to the generous sentiments above all
other kinds of enjoyments. But, he asks, is there not also a _calm
determination_ towards the good of others, without reference to private
interest of any kind? In the case of particular desires, which all
necessarily involve an uneasy sensation until they are gratified, it is
no proof of their being selfish that their gratification gives the joy
of success and stops uneasiness. On the other hand, to desire the
welfare of others in the interest of ourselves is not benevolence nor
virtue. What we have to seek are benevolent affections terminating
ultimately in the good of others, and constituted by nature (either
alone, or mayhap corroborated by some views of interest) 'the immediate
cause of moral approbation.' Now, anything to be had from men could not
raise within us such affections, or make us careful about anything
beyond external deportment. Nor could rewards from God, or the wish for
self-approbation, create such affections, although, on the supposition
of their existence, these may well help to foster them. It is
benevolent _dispositions_ that we morally approve; but dispositions are
not to be raised by will. Moreover, they are often found where there
has been least thought of cultivating them; and, sometimes, in the form
of parental affection, gratitude, &c., they are followed so little for
the sake of honour and reward, that though their absence is condemned,
they are themselves hardly accounted virtuous at all. He then rebuts
the idea that generous affections are selfish, because by _sympathy_ we
make the pleasures and pains of others our own. Sympathy is a real
fact, but has regard only to the distress or suffering beheld or
imagined in others, whereas generous affection is varied toward
different characters. Sympathy can never explain the immediate ardour
of our good-will towards the morally excellent character, or the
eagerness of a dying man for the prosperity of his children and
friends. Having thus accepted the existence of purely disinterested
affections, and divided them as before into calm and turbulent, he puts
the question, Whether is the selfish or benevolent principle to yield
in case of opposition? And although it appears that, as a fact, the
universal happiness is preferred to the individual in the order of the
world by the Deity, this is nothing, unless by some determination of
the soul we are made to comply with the Divine intentions. If by the
desire of reward, it is selfishness still; if by the desire, following
upon the sight, of moral excellence, then there must necessarily exist
as its object some determination of the will involving supreme moral
excellence, otherwise there will be no way of deciding between
particular affections. This leads on to the consideration of the Moral
But, in the beginning of Chapter IV., he first rejects one by one these
various accounts of the reason of our approbation of moral
conduct:--pleasure by sympathy; pleasure through the moral sense;
notion of advantage to the agent, or to the approver, and this direct
or imagined; tendency to procure honour; conformity to law, to truth,
fitness, congruity, &c.; also education, association, &c. He then
asserts a natural and immediate determination in man to approve certain
affections and actions consequent on them; or a natural sense of
immediate excellence in them, not referred to any other quality
perceivable by our other senses, or by reasoning. It is a sense not
dependent on bodily organs, but a settled determination of the soul. It
is a sense, in like manner as, with every one of our powers--voice,
designing, motion, reasoning, there is bound up a taste, sense, or
relish, discerning and recommending their proper exercise; but superior
to all these, because the power of moral action is superior. It can be
trained like any other sense--hearing, harmony, &c.--so as to be
brought to approve finer objects, for instance the general happiness
rather than mere motions of pity. That it is meant to control and
regulate all the other powers is matter of immediate consciousness; we
must ever prefer moral good to the good apprehended by the other
perceptive powers. For while every other good is lessened by the
sacrifices made to gain it, moral good is thereby increased and
relished the more. The _objects_ of moral approbation are primarily
affections of the will, but, all experience shows, only such as tend to
the happiness of others, and the moral perfection of the mind
possessing them. There are, however, many degrees of approbation; and,
when we put aside qualities that approve themselves merely to the sense
of decency or dignity, and also the calm desire of private good, which
is indifferent, being neither virtuous nor vicious, the gradation of
qualities morally approved may be given thus: (1) Dignified abilities
(pursuit of sciences, &c.), showing a taste above sensuality and
selfishness. (2) Qualities immediately connected with virtuous
affections--candour, veracity, fortitude, sense of honour. (3) The kind
affections themselves, and the more as they are fixed rather than
passionate, and extensive rather than narrow; highest of all in the
form of universal good-will to all. (4) The disposition to desire and
love moral excellence, whether observed in ourselves or others--in
short, true piety towards God. He goes on to give a similar scale of
moral turpitude. Again, putting aside the indifferent qualities, and
also those that merely make people despicable and prove them
insensible, he cites--(1) the gratification of a narrow kind of
affection when the public good might have been served. (2) Acts
detrimental to the public, done under fear of personal ill, or great
temptation. (3) Sudden angry passions (especially when grown into
habits) causing injury. (4) Injury caused by selfish and sensual
passions. (5) Deliberate injury springing from calm selfishness. (6)
Impiety towards the Deity, as known to be good. The worst conceivable
disposition, a fixed, unprovoked original malice is hardly found among
men. In the end of the chapter, he re-asserts the supremacy of the
moral faculty, and of the principle of pure benevolence that it
involves. The inconsistency of the principles of self-love and
benevolence when it arises, is reduced in favour of the second by the
intervention of the moral sense, which does not hold out future rewards
and pleasures of self-approbation, but decides for the generous part by
'an immediate undefinable perception.' So at least, if human nature
were properly cultivated, although it is true that in common life men
are wont to follow their particular affections, generous and selfish,
without thought of extensive benevolence or calm self-love; and it is
found necessary to counterbalance the advantage that the selfish
principles gain in early life, by propping up the moral faculty with
considerations of the surest mode of attaining the highest private
happiness, and with views of the moral administration of the world by
But before passing to these subjects, he devotes Chapter V. to the
confirmation of the doctrine of the Moral Sense, and first from the
Sense of Honour. This, the grateful sensation when we are morally
approved and praised, with the reverse when we are censured, he argues
in his usual manner, involves no thought of private interest. However
the facts may stand, it is always under the impression of actions being
moral or immoral, that the sense of honour works. In defence of the
doctrine of a moral sense, against the argument from the varying
morality of different nations, he says it would only prove the sense
not uniform, as the palate is not uniform in all men. But the moral
sense is really more uniform. For, in every nation, it is the
benevolent actions and affections that are approved, and wherever there
is an error of fact, it is the reason, not the moral sense, that is at
fault. There are no cases of nations where moral approval is restricted
to the pursuit of private interest. The chief causes of variety of
moral approbation are three: (1) Different notions of happiness and the
means of promoting it, whereby much that is peculiar in national
customs, &c., is explained, without reflecting upon the moral sense.
(2) The larger or more confined field on which men consider the
tendencies of their actions--sect, party, country, &c. (3) Different
opinions about the divine commands, which are allowed to over-ride the
moral sense. The moral sense does not imply innate complex ideas of the
several actions and their tendencies, which must be discovered by
observation and reasoning; it is concerned only about inward affections
and dispositions, of which the effects may be very various. In closing
this part of his subject, he considers that all that is needed for the
formation of morals, has been given, because from the moral faculty and
benevolent affection all the special laws of nature can be deduced. But
because the moral faculty and benevolence have difficulty in making way
against the selfish principles so early rooted in man, it is needful to
strengthen these foundations of morality by the consideration of the
nature of the highest happiness.
With Chapter VI. accordingly he enters on the discussion of Happiness,
forming the second half of his first book. The supreme happiness of any
being is the full enjoyment of all the gratifications its nature
desires or is capable of; but, in case of their being inconsistent, the
constant gratification of the higher, intenser, and more durable
pleasures is to be preferred.
In Chapter VII., he therefore directly compares the various kinds of
enjoyment and misery, in order to know what of the first must be
surrendered, and what of the second endured, in aiming at highest
attainable happiness. Pleasures the same in kind are preferable,
according as they are more intense and enduring; of a different kind,
as they are more enduring and dignified, a fact decided at once by our
immediate sense of dignity or worth. In the great diversity of tastes
regarding pleasures, he supposes the ultimate decision as to the value
of pleasures to rest with the possessors of finer perceptive powers,
but adds, that good men are the best judges, because possessed of
fuller experience than the vicious, whose tastes, senses, and appetites
have lost their natural vigour through one-sided indulgence. He then
goes through the various pleasures, depreciating the pleasures of the
palate on the positive side, and sexual pleasure as transitory and
enslaving when pursued for itself; the sensual enjoyments are,
notwithstanding, quite proper within due limits, and then, perhaps, are
at their highest. The pleasures of the _imagination_, knowledge, &c.,
differ from the last in not being preceded by an uneasy sensation to be
removed, and are clearly more dignified and endurable, being the proper
exercise of the soul when it is not moved by the affections of social
virtue, or the offices of rational piety. The _sympathetic_ pleasures
are very extensive, very intense, and may be of very long duration;
they are superior to all the foregoing, if there is a hearty affection,
and are at their height along with the feeling of universal good will.
_Moral_ Enjoyments, from the consciousness of good affections and
actions, when by close reflexion we have attained just notions of
virtue and merit, rank highest of all, as well in dignity as in
duration. The pleasures of _honour_, when our conduct is approved, are
also among the highest, and when, as commonly happens, they are
conjoined with the last two classes, it is the height of human bliss.
The pleasures of _mirth_, such as they are, fall in best with virtue,
and so, too, the pleasures of _wealth_ and _power_, in themselves
unsatisfying. Anger, malice, revenge, &c., are not without their uses,
and give momentary pleasure as removing an uneasiness from the subject
of them; but they are not to be compared with the sympathetic feelings,
because their effects cannot long be regarded with satisfaction. His
general conclusion is, that as the highest personal satisfaction is had
in the most benevolent dispositions, the same course of conduct is
recommended alike by the two great determinations of our nature,
towards our own good and the good of others. He then compares the
several sorts of pain, which, he says, are not necessarily in the
proportion of the corresponding pleasures. Allowing the great misery of
bodily pain, he yet argues that, at the worst, it is not to be compared
for a moment to the pain of the worst wrong-doing. The imagination,
great as are its pleasures, cannot cause much pain. The sympathetic and
moral pains of remorse and infamy are the worst of all.
In Chapter VIII. the various Tempers and Characters are compared in
point of happiness or misery. Even the private affections, in due
moderation, promote the general good; but that system is the best
possible where, along with this, the generous affections also promote
private good. No natural affection is absolutely evil; the evil of
excess in narrow generous affection lies in the want of proportion; in
calm extensive good-will there can be no excess. The social and moral
enjoyments, and those of honour, being the highest, the affections and
actions that procure them are the chief means of happiness; amid human
mischances, however, they need support from a trust in Providence. The
unkind affections and passions (anger, &c.) are uneasy even when
innocent, and never were intended to become permanent dispositions. The
narrow kind of affections are all that can be expected from the
majority of men, and are very good, if only they are not the occasion
of unjust partiality to some, or, worse, ill-grounded aversion to
others. The rest of the chapter is taken up in painting the misery of
the selfish passions when in excess--love of life, sensual pleasure,
desire of power, glory, and ease. He has still one 'object of affection
to every rational mind' that he must deal with before he is done with
considering the question of highest happiness. This is the Deity, or
the Mind that presides in the Universe.
Chapter IX., at great length, discusses the first part of the
subject--the framing of primary ideas regarding the Divine Nature. He
proves the existence of an original mind from design, &c., in the
world; he then finds this mind to be benevolent, on occasion of which
he has to deal with the great question of Evil, giving reasons for its
existence, discovering its uses, narrowing its range as compared with
good, and finally reducing it by the consideration and proof of
immortality; he ends by setting forth the other attributes of
God--providence, holiness, justice, &c.
In Chapter X., he considers the Affections, Duty, and Worship to be
exercised towards God. The moral sense quite specially enjoins worship
of the Deity, internal and external; internal by love and trust and
gratitude, &c., external by prayer, praise, &c. [He seems to ascribe to
prayer nothing beyond a subjective efficacy.] In the acknowledgment of
God is highest happiness, and the highest exercise of the moral
In Chapter XI., he closes the whole book with remarks on the Supreme
Happiness of our Nature, which he makes to consist in the perfect
exercise of the nobler virtues, especially love and resignation to God,
and of all the inferior virtues consistent with the superior; also in
external prosperity, so far as virtue allows. The moral sense, and the
truest regard for our own interest, thus recommend the same course as
the calm, generous determination; and this makes up the supreme
cardinal virtue of Justice, which includes even our duties to God.
Temperance in regard to sensual enjoyments, Fortitude as against evils,
and Prudence, or Consideration, in regard to everything that solicits
our desires, are the other virtues; all subservient to Justice. In no
station of life are men shut out from the enjoyment of the supreme
Book II. is a deduction of the more special laws of nature and duties
of life, so far as they follow from the course of life shown above to
be recommended by God and nature as most lovely and most advantageous;
all adventitious states or relations among men aside. The three first
chapters are of a general nature.
In Chapter I., he reviews the circumstances that increase the moral
good or evil of actions. Virtue being primarily an affair of the will
or affections, there can be no imputation of virtue or vice in action,
unless a man is free and able to act; the necessity and impossibility,
as grounds of non-imputation, must, however, have been in no way
brought about by the agent himself. In like manner, he considers what
effects and consequents of his actions are imputable to the agent;
remarking, by the way, that the want of a proper degree of good
affections and of solicitude for the public good is morally evil. He
then discusses the bearing of ignorance and error, vincible and
invincible, and specially the case wherein an erroneous conscience
extenuates. The difficulty of such cases, he says, are due to
ambiguity, wherefore he distinguishes three meanings of Conscience that
are found, (1) the moral faculty, (2) the judgment of the understanding
about the springs and effects of actions, upon which the moral sense
approves or condemns them, (3) our judgments concerning actions
compared with the _law_ (moral maxims, divine laws, &c.).
In Chapter II., he lays down general rules of judging about the
morality of actions from the affections exciting to them or opposing
them; and first as to the degree of virtue or vice when the ability
varies; in other words, morality as dependent on the _strength_ of the
affections. Next, and at greater length, morality as dependent on the
_kind_ of the affections.
Here he attempts to fix, in the first place, the degree of benevolence,
as opposed to private interest, that is necessary to render men
virtuous, or even innocent, in accordance with his principle that there
is implanted in us a very high standard of necessary goodness,
requiring us to do a public benefit, when clear, however burdensome or
hurtful the act may be to ourselves; in the second place, the
proportion that should be kept between the narrower and the more
extensive generous affections, where he does not forget to allow that,
in general, a great part of human virtue must necessarily lie within
the narrow range. Then he gives a number of special rules for
appreciating conduct, advising, _for the very sake of the good to
others that will result therefrom_, that men should foster their
benevolence by the thought of the advantage accruing to themselves here
and hereafter from their virtuous actions; and closes with the
consideration of the cases wherein actions can be imputed to other than
In Chapter III., he enters into the general notion of Rights and Laws,
and their divisions. From _right_ use of such affection or actions as
are approved by the moral faculty from their relation to the general
good, or the good of particular persons consistently with the general
good, he distinguishes the _right_ of a man to do, possess, demand,
&c., which exists when his doing, possessing, &c. tend to the good of
society, or to his own, consistent with the rights of others and the
general good, and when obstructing him would have the contrary
tendency. He proceeds to argue, on utilitarian principles, that the
rights that seem to attend every natural desire are perfectly valid
when not against the public interest, but never valid when they are
Chapter IV. contains a discussion upon the state of Nature, maintaining
that it is not a state of anarchy or war, but full of rights and
obligations. He points out that independent states in their relation to
one another are subject to no common authority, and so are in a state
of nature. Rights belong (1) to individuals, (2) to societies, (3) to
mankind at large. They are also natural, or adventitious, and again
perfect or imperfect.
Chapter V. Natural rights are antecedent to society, such as the right
to life, to liberty, to private judgment, to marriage, &c. They are of
two kinds--perfect and imperfect.
Chapter VI. Adventitious rights are divided into Real and Personal (a
distinction chiefly of legal value.) He also examines into the nature
and foundation of private property.
Chapter VII. treats of the Acquisition of property, Hutcheson, as is
usual with moralists, taking the _occupatio_ of the Roman Law as a
basis of ownership. Property involves the right of (1) use, (2)
exclusive use, (3) alienation.
Chapter VIII. Rights drawn from property are such as mortgages,
servitudes, &c., being rights of what may be called partial or
Chapter IX. discusses the subject of contracts, with the general
conditions required for a valid contract.
Chapter X. Of Veracity. Like most writers on morals, Hutcheson breaks
in upon the strict rule of veracity by various necessary, but
ill-defined, exceptions. Expressions of courtesy and etiquette are
exempted, so also artifices in war, answers extorted by unjust
violence, and some cases of peculiar necessity, as when a man tells a
lie to save thousands of lives.
Chapter XI. Oaths and Vows.
Chapter XII. belongs rather to Political Economy. Its subject is the
values of goods in commerce, and the nature of coin.
Chapter XIII. enumerates the various classes of contracts, following
the Roman Law, taking up _Mandatum, Depositum_, Letting to Hire, Sale,
Chapter XIV. adds the Roman _quasi-contracts_.
Chapter XV. Rights arising from injuries or wrongs _(torts)_. He
condemns duelling, but admits that, where it is established, a man may,
in some cases, be justified in sending or accepting a challenge.
Chapter XVI. Rights belonging to society as against the individual. The
perfect rights of society are such as the following:--(1) To prevent
suicide; (2) To require the producing and rearing of offspring, at
least so far as to tax and discourage bachelors; (3) To compel men,
though not without compensation, to divulge useful inventions; (4) To
compel to some industry, &c.
Chapter XVII. takes up some cases where the ordinary rights of property
or person are set aside by some overbearing necessity.
Chapter XVIII. The way of deciding controversies in a state of nature
Book III.--Civil Polity, embracing Domestic and Civil Rights.
Chapter I. _Marriage_. Hutcheson considers that Marriage should be a
perpetual union upon equal terms, 'and not such a one wherein the one
party stipulates to himself a right of governing in all domestic
affairs, and the other promises subjection.' He would allow divorce for
adultery, desertion, or implacable enmity on either side. Upon defect
of children, some sort of concubinage would be preferable to divorce,
but leaving to the woman the option of divorce with compensation. He
notices the misrepresentations regarding Plato's scheme of a community
of wives; 'Never was there in any plan less provision made for sensual
Chapter II. The Rights and Duties of Parents and Children.
Chapter III. The Rights and Duties of Masters and Servants.
Chapter IV. discusses the Motives to constitute Civil Government. If
men were perfectly wise and upright, there would be no need for
government. Man is naturally sociable and political [Greek: xon
Chapter V. shows that the natural method of constituting civil
government is by consent or social compact.
Chapter VI. The Forms of Government, with their respective advantages
Chapter VII. How far the Rights of Governors extend. Their lives are
more sacred than the lives of private persons; but they may
nevertheless be lawfully resisted, and, in certain cases, put to death.
Chapter VIII. The ways of acquiring supreme Power. That government has
most divine right that is best adapted to the public good: a divine
right of succession to civil offices is ridiculous.
Chapter IX. takes up the sphere of civil law. (1) To enforce the laws
of nature; (2) To appoint the form &c., of contracts and dispositions,
with a view to prevent fraud; (3) To require men to follow the most
prudent methods of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce; (4) To
prescribe rules in matters morally indifferent, where uniformity is
advantageous. Opinions should be tolerated; all except Atheism, and the
denial of moral obligation.
Chapter X. The Laws of Peace and War, belonging now to the subject of
Chapter XI. (concluding the work) discusses some cases connected with
the duration of the 'Politick Union.'
This bare indication of topics will suffice to give an idea of the
working out of Hutcheson's system. For summary:--I.--The Standard,
according to Hutcheson, is identical with the Moral Faculty. It is the
Sense of unique excellence in certain affections and in the actions
consequent upon them. The object of approval is, in the main,
II.--His division of the feelings is into calm and turbulent, each of
these being again divided into self-regarding and benevolent. He
affirms the existence of pure Disinterestedness, a _calm_ regard for
the most extended well-being. There are also _turbulent_ passions of a
benevolent kind, whose end is their simple gratification. Hutcheson has
thus a higher and lower grade of Benevolence; the higher would
correspond to the disinterestedness that arises from the operation of
_fixed ideas_, the lower to those affections that are generated in us
by pleasing objects.
He has no discussion on the freedom of the will, contenting himself
with mere voluntariness as an element in moral approbation or censure.
III.--The Summum Bonum is fully discussed. He places the pleasures of
sympathy and moral goodness (also of piety) in the highest rank, the
passive sensations in the lowest. Instead of making morality, like
health, a neutral state (though an indispensable condition of
happiness), he ascribes to it the highest positive gratification.
IV.--In proceeding upon Rights, instead of Duties, as a basis of
classification, Hutcheson is following in the wake of the
jurisconsults, rather than of the moralists. When he enters into the
details of moral duties, he throws aside his 'moral sense,' and draws
his rules, most of them from Roman Law, the rest chiefly from manifest
V. and VI.--Hutcheson's relation to Politics and Theology requires no
BERNARD DE MANDEVILLE. [1670-1733.]
MANDEVILLE was author of 'The Fable of the Bees; or, Private Vices,
Public Benefits' (1714). This work is a satire upon artificial society,
having for its chief aim to expose the hollowness of the so-called
dignity of human nature. Dugald Stewart considered it a recommendation
to any theory of the mind that it exalted our conceptions of human
nature. Shaftesbury's views were entitled to this advantage; but,
observes Mandeville, 'the ideas he had formed of the goodness and
excellency of our nature, were as romantic and chimerical, as they are
beautiful and amiable.' Mandeville examined not what human nature
_ought to be_, but what it really _is_. In contrast, therefore, to the
moralists that distinguish between a higher and a lower in our nature,
attributing to the higher everything good and noble, while the lower
ought to be persecuted and despised, Mandeville declares the fancied
higher parts to be the region of vanity and imposture, while the
renowned deeds of men, and the greatness of kingdoms, really arise from
the passions usually reckoned base and sensual. As his views are
scattered through numerous dissertations, it will be best to summarize
them under a few heads.
1. _Virtue and Vice_. Morality is not natural to man; it is the
invention of wise men, who have endeavoured to infuse the belief, that
it is best for everybody to prefer the public interest to their own.
As, however, they could bestow no _real_ recompense for the thwarting
of self-interest, they contrived an _imaginary_ one--honour. Upon this
they proceeded to divide men into two classes, the one abject and base,
incapable of self-denial; the other noble, because they suppressed
their passions, and acted for the public welfare. Man was thus won to
virtue, not by force, but by flattery.
In regard to praiseworthiness, Shaftesbury, according to Mandeville,
was the first to affirm that virtue could exist without self-denial.
This was opposed to the prevailing opinion, and to the view taken up
and criticised by Mandeville. His own belief was different. 'It is not
in feeling the passions, or in being affected with the frailties of
nature, that vice consists; but in indulging and obeying the call of
them, contrary to the dictates of reason.'
2. _Self-love_. 'It is an admirable saying of a worthy divine, that
though many discoveries have been made in the world of self-love, there
is yet abundance of _terra incognita_ left behind.' There is nothing so
sincere upon earth as the love that creatures bear to themselves. 'Man
centres everything in himself, and neither loves nor hates, but for his
own sake.' Nay, more, we are naturally regardless of the effect of our
conduct upon others; we have no innate love for our fellows. The
highest virtue is not without reward; it has a satisfaction of its own,
the pleasure of contemplating one's own worth. But is there no genuine
self-denial? Mandeville answers by a distinction: mortifying one
passion to gratify another is very common, but this not self-denial;
self-inflicted pain without any recompense--where is that to be found?
'Charity is that virtue by which part of that sincere love we have for
ourselves is transferred pure and unmixed to others (not friends or
relatives), whom we have no obligation to, nor hope or expect
anything-from.' The counterfeit of true charity is _pity_ or
_compassion_, which is a fellow-feeling for the sufferings of others.
Pity is as much a frailty of our nature as anger, pride, or fear. The
weakest minds (_e.g._, women and children) have generally the greatest
share of it. It is excited through the eye or the ear; when the
suffering does not strike our senses, the feeling is weak, and hardly
more than an imitation of pity. Pity, since it seeks rather our own
relief from a painful sight, than the good of others, must be curbed
and controlled in order to produce any benefit to society.
Mandeville draws a nice distinction between self-love, and, what he
calls, _self-liking_. 'To increase the care in creatures to preserve
themselves, Mature has given them an instinct, by which _every
individual values itself above its real worth_.' The more mettlesome
and spirited animals (_e.g._, horses) are endowed with this instinct.
In us, it is accompanied with an apprehension that we do overvalue
ourselves; hence our susceptibility to the confirmatory good opinion of
others. But if each were to display openly his own feeling of
superiority, quarrels would inevitably arise. The grand discovery
whereby the ill consequences of this passion are avoided is
_politeness_. 'Good manners consists in flattering the pride of others,
and concealing our own.' The first step is to conceal our good opinion
of ourselves; the next is more impudent, namely, to pretend that we
value others more highly than ourselves. But it takes a long time to
come to that pitch; the Romans were almost masters of the world before
they learned politeness.
3. _Pride, Vanity, Honour_. Pride is of great consequence in
Mandeville's system. 'The moral virtues are the political offspring
which flattery begot upon pride.' Man is naturally innocent, timid, and
stupid; destitute of strong passions or appetites, he would remain in
his primitive barbarism were it not for pride. Yet all moralists
condemn pride, as a vain notion of our own superiority. It is a subtle
passion, not easy to trace. It is often seen in the humility of the
humble, and the shamelessness of the shameless. It simulates charity;
'pride and vanity have built more hospitals than all the virtues
together.' It is the chief ingredient in the chastity of women, and in
the courage of men. Less cynical moralists than Mandeville have looked
with suspicion on posthumous fame; 'so silly a creature is man, as
that, intoxicated with the fumes of vanity, he can feast on the thought
of the praises that shall be paid his memory in future ages, with so
much ecstasy as to neglect his present life, nay court and covet death,
if he but imagines that it will add to the glory he had acquired
before.' But the most notable institution of pride is the love of
honour. Honour is a 'chimera,' having no reality in nature, but a mere
invention of moralists and politicians, to keep men close to their
engagements, whatever they be. In some families it is hereditary, like
the gout; but, luckily, the vulgar are destitute of it. In the time of
chivalry, honour was a very troublesome affair; but in the beginning of
the 17th century, it was melted over again, and brought to a new
standard; 'they put in the same weight of courage, half the quantity of
honesty, and a very little justice, but not a scrap of any other
virtue.' The worst thing about it is duelling; but there are more
suicides than duels, so that at any rate men do not hate others more
than themselves. After a half-satirical apology for duelling, he
concludes with one insurmountable objection; duelling is wholly
repugnant to religion, adding with the muffled scepticism
characteristic of the 18th century, 'how to reconcile them must be left
to wiser heads than mine.'
4. _Private vices, public benefits_. Mandeville ventures to compare
society to a bowl of punch. Avarice is the souring, and prodigality the
sweetening of it. The water is the ignorance and folly of the insipid
multitude, while honour and the noble qualities of man represent the
brandy. To each of these ingredients we may object in turn, but
experience teaches that, when judiciously mixed, they make an excellent
liquor. It is not the good, but the evil qualities of men, that lead to
worldly greatness. Without luxury we should have no trade. This
doctrine is illustrated at great length, and has been better remembered
than anything else in the book; but it may be dismissed with two
remarks. (1) It embodies an error in political economy, namely, that it
is spending and not saving that gives employment to the poor. If
Mandeville's aim had been less critical, and had he been less delighted
with his famous paradox, we may infer from the acuteness of his
reasoning on the subject, that he would have anticipated the true
doctrine of political economy, as he saw through the fallacy of the
mercantile theory. (2) He employs the term, luxury, with great
latitude, as including whatever is not a bare necessary of existence.
According to the fashionable doctrine of his day, all luxury was called
an evil and a vice; and in this sense, doubtless, vice is essential to
the existence of a great nation.
5. _The origin of society_. Mandeville's remarks on this subject are
the best he has written, and come nearest to the accredited views of
the present day. He denies that we have any natural affection for one
another, or any natural aversion or hatred. Each seeks his own
happiness, and conflict arises from the opposition of men's desires. To
make a society out of the raw material of uncivilized men, is a work of
great difficulty, requiring the concurrence of many favourable
accidents, and a long period of time. For the qualities developed among
civilized men no more belong to them in a savage state, than the
properties of wine exist in the grape. Society begins with _families_.
In the beginning, the old savage has a great wish to rule his children,
but has no capacity for government. He is inconstant and violent in his
desires, and incapable of any steady conduct. What at first keeps men
together is not so much reverence for the father, as the common danger
from wild beasts. The traditions of antiquity are full of the prowess
of heroes in killing dragons and monsters. The second step to society
is the danger men are in from one another. To protect themselves,
several families would be compelled to accept the leadership of the
strongest. The leaders, seeing the mischiefs of dissension, would
employ all their art to extirpate that evil. Thus they would forbid
killing one another, stealing one another's wives, &c. The third and
last step is the invention of letters; this is essential to the growth
of society, and to the corresponding, expansion of law.
I.--Mandeville's object being chiefly _negative_ and _dialectical_, he
has left little of positive ethical theory. Virtue he regards as _de
facto_ an arbitrary institution of society; what it ought to be, he
hardly says, but the tendency of his writings is to make the good of
the whole to be preferred to private interest.
II.--He denies the existence of a moral sense and of disinterestedness.
The motive to observe moral rules is pride and vanity fomented by
politicians. He does not regard virtue as an independent end, even by
association, but considers that pride in its naked form is the ever
present incentive to good conduct.
V.--The connexion of virtue with society is already fully indicated.
In France, the name of HELVETIUS (author of _De l'esprit, De l'homme_,
&c., 1715-71) is identified with a serious (in contrast to Mandeville),
and perfectly consistent, attempt to reduce all morality to direct
Self-interest. Though he adopted this ultimate interpretation of the
facts, Helvetius was by no means the 'low and loose moralist' that he
has been described to be; and, in particular, his own practice
displayed a rare benevolence.
DAVID HUME. [1711-1776.]
The Ethical views of Hume are contained in '_An Enquiry concerning the
Principles of Morals_.'
In an Introductory Section (I.) he treats of the GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF
After describing those that profess to deny the reality of the
distinction of Right and Wrong, as disingenuous disputants, useless to
reason with,--he states the great problem of Morals to be, whether the
foundation is REASON or SENTIMENT; whether our knowledge of moral
distinctions is attained by a chain of argument and induction, or by an
immediate feeling or finer internal sense.
Specious arguments may be urged on both sides. On the side of Reason,
it may be contended, that the justice and injustice of actions are
often a subject of argument and controversy like the sciences; whereas
if they appealed at once to a sense, they would be as unsusceptible of
truth or falsehood as the harmony of verse, the tenderness of passion,
or the brilliancy of wit.
In reply, the supporters of Sentiment may urge that the character of
virtue is to be _amiable_, and of vice to be _odious_, which are not
intellectual distinctions. The end of moral distinctions is to
influence the feelings and determine the will, which no mere assent of
the understanding can do. Extinguish our _feelings_ towards virtue and
vice, and morality would cease to have any influence on our lives.
The arguments on both sides have so much force in them, that we may
reasonably suspect that Reason and Sentiment both concur in our moral
determinations. The final sentence upon actions, whereby we pronounce
them praiseworthy or blameable, may depend on the feelings; while a
process of the understanding may be requisite to make nice
distinctions, examine complicated relations, and ascertain matters of
It is not the author's intention, however, to pursue the subject in the
form of adjudicating between these two principles, but to follow what
he deems a simpler method--to analyze that complication of mental
qualities, called PERSONAL MERIT: to ascertain the attributes or
qualities that render a man an object of esteem and affection, or of
hatred and contempt. This is a question of fact, and not of abstract
science; and should be determined, as similar questions are, in the
modern physics, by following the experimental method, and drawing
general maxims from a comparison of particular instances.
Section II. is OF BENEVOLENCE.
His first remark on Benevolence is, that it is identified in all
countries with the highest merits that human nature is capable of
This prepares the way for the farther observation, that in setting
forth the praises of a humane, beneficent man, the one circumstance
that never fails to be insisted on is the happiness to society arising
through his good offices. Like the sun, an inferior minister of
providence, he cheers, invigorates, and sustains the surrounding world.
May we not therefore conclude that the UTILITY resulting from social
virtues, forms, at least, a _part_ of their merit, and is one source of
the approbation paid to them. He illustrates this by a number of
interesting examples, and defers the enquiry--_how large_ a part of the
social virtues depend on utility, and for what reason we are so much
affected by it.
Section III. is on JUSTICE. That Justice is useful to society, and
thence derives _part_ of its merit, would be superfluous to prove. That
public utility is the _sole_ origin of Justice, and that the beneficial
consequences are the _sole_ foundation of its merit, may seem more
questionable, but can in the author's opinion be maintained.
He puts the supposition, that the human race were provided with such
abundance of all external things, that without industry, care, or
anxiety, every person found every want fully satisfied; and remarks,
that while every other social virtue (the affections, &c.) might
flourish, yet, as property would be absent, mine and thine unknown,
Justice would be useless, an idle ceremonial, and could never come into
the catalogue of the virtues. In point of fact, where any agent, as
air, water, or land, is so abundant as to supply everybody, questions
of justice do not arise on that particular subject.
Suppose again that in our present necessitous condition, the mind of
every man were so enlarged and so replete with generosity that each
should feel as much for his fellows as for himself--the _beau ideal_ of
communism--in this case Justice would be in abeyance, and its ends
answered by Benevolence. This state is actually realized in
well-cultivated families; and communism has been attempted and
maintained for a time in the ardour of new enthusiasms.
Reverse the above suppositions, and imagine a society in such want
that the utmost care is unable to prevent the greater number from
perishing, and all from the extremes of misery, as in a shipwreck
of a siege; in such circumstances, justice is suspended in favour of
self-preservation; the possibility of good order is at an end, and
Justice, the means, is discarded as useless. Or, again, suppose a
virtuous man to fall into a society of ruffians on the road to swift
destruction; his sense of justice would be of no avail, and
consequently he would arm himself with the first weapon he could seize,
consulting self-preservation alone. The ordinary punishment of
criminals is, as regards them, a suspension of justice for the benefit
of society. A state of war is the remission of justice between the
parties as of no use or application. A civilized nation at war with
barbarians must discard even the small relics of justice retained in
war with other civilized nations. Thus the rules of equity and justice
depend on the condition that men are placed in, and are limited by
their UTILITY in each separate state of things. The common state of
society is a medium between the extreme suppositions now made: we have
our self-partialities, but have learnt the value of equity; we have few
enjoyments by nature, but a considerable number by industry. Hence we
have the ideas of Property; to these Justice is essential, and it thus
derives its moral obligation.
The poetic fictions of the Golden Age, and the philosophic fictions of
a State of Nature, equally adopt the same fundamental assumption; in
the one, justice was unnecessary, in the other, it was inadmissible.
So, if there were a race of creatures so completely servile as never to
contest any privilege with us, nor resent any infliction, which is very
much our position with the lower animals, justice would have no place
in our dealings with them. Or, suppose once more, that each person
possessed within himself every faculty for existence, and were isolated
from every other; so solitary a being would be as incapable of justice
as of speech. The sphere of this duty begins with society; and extends
as society extends, and as it contributes to the well-being of the
individual members of society.
The author next examines the _particular laws_ embodying justice and
determining property. He supposes a creature, having reason, but
unskilled in human nature, to deliberate with himself how to distribute
property. His most obvious thought would be to give the largest
possessions to the most virtuous, so as to give the power of doing good
where there was the most inclination. But so unpracticable is this
design, that although sometimes conceived, it is never executed; the
civil magistrate knows that it would be utterly destructive of human
society; sublime as may be the ideal justice that it supposes, he sets
it aside on the calculation of its bad consequences.
Seeing also that, with nature's liberality, were all her gifts equally
distributed, every one would have so good a share that no one would
have a title to complain; and seeing, farther, that this is the only
type of perfect equality or ideal justice--there is no good ground for
falling short of it but the knowledge that the attempt would be
pernicious to society. The writers on the Law of Nature, whatever
principles they begin with, must assign as the ultimate reason of law
the necessities and convenience of mankind. Uninstructed nature could
never make the distinction between _mine_ and _yours_; it is a purely
artificial product of society. Even when this distinction is
established, and justice requires it to be adhered to, yet we do not
scruple in extraordinary cases to violate justice in an individual case
for the safety of the people at large.
When the interests of society require a rule of justice, but do not
indicate any rule in particular, the resort is to some _analogy_ with a
rule already established on grounds of the general interest.
For determining what is a man's property, there may be many statutes,
customs, precedents, analogies, some constant and inflexible, some
variable and arbitrary, but all professedly terminating in the
interests of human society. But for this, the laws of property would be
undistinguishable from the wildest superstitions.
Such a reference, instead of weakening the obligations of justice,
strengthens them. What stronger foundations can there be for any duty
than that, without it, human nature could not subsist; and that,
according as it is observed, the degrees of human happiness go on
Either Justice is evidently founded on Utility, or our regard for it is
a simple instinct like hunger, resentment, or self-preservation. But on
this last supposition, property, the subject-matter, must be also
discerned by an instinct; no such instinct, however, can be affirmed.
Indeed, no single instinct would suffice for the number of
considerations entering into a fact so complex. To define Inheritance
and Contract, a hundred volumes of laws are not enough; how then can
nature embrace such complications in the simplicity of an instinct. For
it is not laws alone that we must have, but authorized interpreters.
Have we original ideas of praetors, and chancellors, and juries?
Instincts are uniform in their operation; birds of a species build
their nests alike. The laws of states are uniform to about the same
extent as houses, which must have a roof and walls, windows and
chimneys, because the end in view demands certain essentials; but
beyond these, there is every conceivable diversity.
It is true that, by education and custom, we blame injustice without
thinking of its ultimate consequences. So universal are the rules of
justice, from the universality of its end, that we approve of it
mechanically. Still, we have often to recur to the final end, and to
ask, What must become of the world if such practices prevail? How could
society subsist under such disorders?
Thus, then, Hume considers that, by an inductive determination, on the
strict Newtonian basis, he has proved that the SOLE foundation of our
regard to justice is the support and welfare of society: and since no
moral excellence is more esteemed, we must have some strong disposition
in favour of general usefulness. Such a disposition must be a part of
the humane virtues, as it is the SOLE source of the moral approbation
of fidelity, justice, veracity, and integrity.
Section IV. relates to POLITICAL SOCIETY, and is intended to show that
Government, Allegiance, and the Laws of each State, are justified
solely by Utility.
If men had _sagacity_ to perceive, and _strength of mind_ to follow
out, distant and general interests, there had been no such thing as
government. In other words, if government were totally useless, it
would not be. The duty of Allegiance would be no duty, but for the
advantage of it, in preserving peace and order among mankind.
[Hume is here supposing that men enter into society on equal terms; he
makes no allowance for the exercise of the right of the stronger in
making compulsory social unions. This, however, does not affect his
reasoning as to the source of our approbation of social duty, which is
not usually extended to tyranny.]
When political societies hold intercourse with one another, certain
regulations are made, termed Laws of Nations, which have no other end
than the advantage of those concerned.
The virtue of Chastity is subservient to the utility of rearing the
young, which requires the combination of both parents; and that
combination reposes on marital fidelity. Without such a utility, the
virtue would never have been thought of. The reason why chastity is
extended to cases where child-bearing does not enter, is that _general
rules_ are often carried beyond their original occasion, especially in
matters of taste and sentiment.
The prohibition of marriage between near relations, and the turpitude
of incest, have in view the preserving of purity of manners among
persons much together.
The laws of good manners are a kind of lesser morality, for the better
securing of our pleasures in society.
Even robbers and pirates must have their laws. Immoral gallantries,
where authorized, are governed by a set of rules. Societies for play
have laws for the conduct of the game. War has its laws as well as
peace. The fights of boxers, wrestlers, and such like, are subject to
rules. For all such cases, the common interest and utility begets a
standard of right and wrong in those concerned.
Section V. proceeds to argue WHY UTILITY PLEASES. However powerful
education may be in forming men's sentiments, there must, in such a
matter as morality, be some deep natural distinction to work upon. Now,
there are only two natural sentiments that Utility can appeal to: (1)
Self-Interest, and (2) Generosity, or the interests of others.
The deduction of morals from Self-Love is obvious, and no doubt
explains much. An appeal to experience, however, shows its defects. We
praise virtuous actions in remote ages and countries, where our own
interests are out of the question. Even when we have a private interest
in some virtuous action, our praise avoids that part of it, and prefers
to fasten on what we are not interested in. When we hear of the details
of a generous action, we are moved by it, before we know when or where
it took place. Nor will the force of imagination account for the
feeling in those cases; if we have an eye solely to our own _real_
interest, it is not conceivable how we can be moved by a mere imaginary
But another view may be taken. Some have maintained that the public
interest is our own interest, and is therefore promoted by our
self-love. The reply is that the two are often opposed to each other,
and still we approve of the preference of the public interest. We are,
therefore, driven to adopt a more public affection, and to admit that
the interests of society, _on their own, account_, are not indifferent
Have we any difficulty to comprehend the force of humanity or
benevolence? Or to conceive that the very aspect of happiness, joy,
prosperity, gives pleasure; while pain, suffering, sorrow, communicate
uneasiness? Here we have an unmistakeable, powerful, universal
sentiment of human nature to build upon.
The author gives an expanded illustration of the workings of
Benevolence or Sympathy, which well deserves to be read for its merits
of execution. We must here content ourselves with stating that it is on
this principle of disinterested action, belonging to our nature, that
he founds the chief part of our sentiment of Moral Approbation.
Section VI. takes into the account QUALITIES USEFUL TO OURSELVES. We
praise in individuals the qualities useful to themselves, and are
pleased with the happiness flowing to individuals by their own conduct.
This can be no selfish motive on our part. For example, DISCRETION, so
necessary to the accomplishing of any useful enterprise, is commended;
that measured union of enterprise and caution found in great
commanders, is a subject of highest admiration; and why? For the
usefulness, or the success that it brings. What need is there to
display the praises of INDUSTRY, or of FRUGALITY, virtues useful to the
possessor in the first instance? Then the qualities of HONESTY,
FIDELITY, and TRUTH, are praised, in the first place, for their
tendency to the good of society; and, being established on that
foundation, they are also approved as advantageous to the individual's
own self. A part of our blame of UNCHASTITY in a woman is attached to
its imprudence with reference to the opinion regarding it. STRENGTH OF
MIND being to resist present care, and to maintain the search of
distant profit and enjoyment, is another quality of great value to the
possessor. The distinction between the _Fool_ and the _Wise_ man
illustrates the same position. In our approbation of all such
qualities, it is evident that the happiness and misery of others are
not indifferent spectacles to us: the one, like sunshine, or the
prospect of well-cultivated plains, imparts joy and satisfaction; the
other, like a lowering cloud or a barren landscape, throws a damp over
He next considers the influence of bodily endowments and the goods of
fortune as bearing upon the general question.
Even in animals, one great source of _beauty_ is the suitability of
their structure to their manner of life. In times when bodily strength
in men was more essential to a warrior than now, it was held in so much
more esteem. Impotence in both sexes, and barrenness in women, are
generally contemned, for the loss of human pleasure attending them.
As regards fortune, how can we account for the regard paid to the rich
and powerful, but from the reflexion to the mind of prosperity,
happiness, ease, plenty, authority, and the gratification of every
appetite. Rank and family, although they may be detached from wealth
and power, had originally a reference to these.
In Section VII., Hume treats of QUALITIES IMMEDIATELY AGREEABLE TO
OURSELVES. Under this head, he dilates on the influence of
CHEERFULNESS, as a social quality: on GREATNESS OF MIND, or Dignity of
Character; on COURAGE; on TRANQUILLITY, or equanimity of mind, in the
midst of pain, sorrow, and adverse fortune; on BENEVOLENCE in the
aspect of an agreeable spectacle; and lastly, on DELICACY of Taste, as
a merit. As manifested to a beholder, all these qualities are engaging
and admirable, on account of the immediate pleasure that they
communicate to the person possessed of them. They are farther
testimonies to the existence of social sympathy, and to the connexion
of that with our sentiment of approbation towards actions or persons.
Section VIII. brings forward the QUALITIES IMMEDIATELY AGREEABLE TO
OTHERS. These are GOOD MANNERS or POLITENESS; the WIT or INGENUITY that
enlivens social intercourse; MODESTY, as opposed to impudence,
arrogance, and vanity; CLEANLINESS, and GRACEFUL MANNER; all which are
obviously valued for the pleasures they communicate to people
generally. Section IX. is the CONCLUSION. Whatever may have been
maintained in systems of philosophy, he contends that in common life
the habitual motives of panegyric or censure are of the kind described
by him. He will not enter into the question as to the relative shares
of benevolence and self-love in the human constitution. Let the
generous sentiments be ever so weak, they still direct a preference of
what is serviceable to what is pernicious; and on these preferences a
moral distinction is founded. In the notion of morals, two things are
implied; a sentiment common to all mankind, and a sentiment whose
objects comprehend all mankind; and these two requisites belong to the
sentiment of humanity or benevolence.
Another spring of our constitution, that brings a great addition of
force to moral sentiment, is Love of Fame. The pursuit of a character,
name, and reputation in the world, leads to a habit of surveying our
own actions, begets a reverence for self as well as others, and is thus
the guardian of every virtue. Humanity and Love of Reputation combine
to form the highest type of morality yet conceived.
The nature of moral _approbation_ being thus solved, there remains the
nature of _obligation_; by which the author means to enquire, if a man
having a view to his own welfare, will not find his best account in the
practice of every moral virtue. He dwells upon the many advantages of
social virtue, of benevolence and friendship, humanity and kindness, of
truth and honesty; but confesses that the rule that 'honesty is the
best policy' is liable to many exceptions. He makes us acquainted with
his own theory of Happiness. How little is requisite to supply the
_necessities_ of nature? and what comparison is there between, on the
one hand, the cheap pleasures of conversation, society, study, even
health, and, on the other, the common beauties of nature, with
self-approbation; and the feverish, empty amusements of luxury and
Thus ends the main treatise; but the author adds, in an Appendix, four
The first takes up the question started at the outset, but postponed,
how far our moral approbation is a matter of _reason_, and how far of
_sentiment_. His handling of this topic is luminous and decisive.
If the utility of actions be a foundation of our approval of them,
_reason_ must have a share, for no other faculty can trace the results
of actions in their bearings upon human happiness. In Justice
especially, there are often numerous and complicated considerations;
such as to occupy the deliberations of politicians and the debates of
On the other hand, reason is insufficient of itself to constitute the
feeling of moral approbation or disapprobation. Reason shows the means
to an end; but if we are otherwise indifferent to the end, the
reasonings fall inoperative on the mind. Here then a _sentiment_ must
display itself, a delight in the happiness of men, and a repugnance to
what causes them misery. Reason teaches the consequences of actions;
Humanity or Benevolence is roused to make a distinction in favour of
such as are beneficial.
He adduces a number of illustrations to show that reason alone is
insufficient to make a moral sentiment. He bids us examine Ingratitude,
for instance; good offices bestowed on one side, ill-will on the other.
Reason might say, whether a certain action, say the gift of money, or
an act of patronage, was for the good of the party receiving it, and
whether the circumstances of the gift indicated a good intention on the
part of the giver; it might also say, whether the actions of the person
obliged were intentionally or consciously hurtful or wanting in esteem
to the person obliging. But when all this is made out by reason, there
remains the sentiment of abhorrence, whose foundations must be in the
emotional part of our nature, in our delight in manifested goodness,
and our abhorrence of the opposite.
He refers to Beauty or Taste as a parallel case, where there may be an
operation of the intellect to compute proportions, but where the
elegance or beauty must arise in the region of feeling. Thus, while
_reason_ conveys the knowledge of truth and falsehood, _sentiment_ or
emotion must give beauty and deformity, vice and virtue.
Appendix No. II. is a discussion of SELF-LOVE. The author adverts first
to the position that benevolence is a mere pretence, a cheat, a gloss
of self-love, and dismisses it with a burst of indignation. He next
considers the less offensive view, that all benevolence and generosity
are resolvable in the last resort into self-love. He does not attribute
to the holders of this opinion any laxity in their own practice of
virtue, as compared with other men. Epicurus and his followers were no
strangers to probity; Atticus and Horace were men of generous
dispositions; Hobbes and Locke were irreproachable in their lives.
These men all allowed that friendship exists without hypocrisy; but
considered that, by a sort of mental chemistry, it might be made out
self-love, twisted and moulded by a particular turn of the imagination.
But, says Hume, as some men have not the turn of imagination, and
others have, this alone is quite enough to make the widest difference
of human characters, and to stamp one man as virtuous and humane, and
another vicious and meanly interested. The analysis in no way sets
aside the reality of moral distinctions. The question is, therefore,
As a speculation, it is open to these objections. (1) Being contrary to
the unprejudiced notions of mankind, it demands some very powerful aid
from philosophy. On the face of things, the selfish passions and the
benevolent passions are widely distinguished, and no hypothesis has
ever yet so far overcome the disparity as to show that the one could
grow out of the other; we may discern in the attempts that love of
_simplicity_, which has done so much harm to philosophy.
The Animals are susceptible of kindness; shall we then attribute to
them, too, a refinement of self-interest? Again, what interest can a
fond mother have in view who loses her health in attendance on a sick
child, and languishes and dies of grief when relieved from the slavery
of that attendance?
(2) But farther, the real simplicity lies on the side of independent
and disinterested benevolence. There are bodily appetites that carry us
to their objects before sensual enjoyment; hunger and thirst have
eating and drinking for their end; the gratification follows, and
becomes a secondary desire. [A very questionable analysis.] So there
are mental passions, as fame, power, vengeance, that urge us to act, in
the first instance; and when the end is attained, the pleasure follows.
Now, as vengeance may be so pursued as to make us neglect ease,
interest, and safety, why may we not allow to humanity and friendship
the same privileges? [This is Butler, improved in the statement.]
Appendix III. gives some farther considerations with regard to JUSTICE.
The point of the discussion is to show that Justice differs from
Generosity or Beneficence in a regard to distant consequences, and to
General Rules. The theme is handled in the author's usual happy style,
but contains nothing special to him. He omits to state what is also a
prime attribute of Justice, its being indispensable to the very
existence of society, which cannot be said of generosity apart from its
contributing to justice.
Appendix IV. is on some VERBAL DISPUTES. He remarks that, neither in
English nor in any other modern tongue, is the boundary fixed between