Part 5 out of 8
virtues and talents, vices and defects; that praise is given to natural
endowments, as well as to voluntary exertions. The epithets
_intellectual_ and _moral_ do not precisely divide the virtues; neither
does the contrast of _head_ and _heart_; many virtuous qualities
partake of both ingredients. So the sentiment of _conscious worth_, or
of its opposite, is affected by what is not in our power, as well as by
what is; by the goodness or badness of our memory, as well as by
continence or dissoluteness of conduct. Without endowments of the
understanding, the best intentions will not procure esteem.
The ancient moralists included in the virtues what are obviously
natural endowments. Prudence, according to Cicero, involved sagacity or
powers of judgment. In Aristotle, we find, among the virtues, Courage,
Temperance, Magnanimity, Modesty, Prudence, and manly Openness, as well
as Justice and Friendship. Epictetus puts people on their guard against
humanity and compassion. In general, the difference of voluntary and
involuntary was little regarded in ancient ethics. This is changed in
modern times, by the alliance of Ethics with Theology. The divine has
put all morality on the footing of the civil law, and guarded it by the
same sanctions of reward and punishment; and consequently must make the
distinction of voluntary and involuntary fundamental.
Hume also composed a dialogue, to illustrate, in his light and easy
style, the great variety, amounting almost to opposition, of men's
moral sentiments in different ages. This may seem adverse to his
principle of Utility, as it is to the doctrine of an Intuitive Sense of
Right and Wrong. He allows, however, for the different ways that people
may view Utility, seeing that the consequences of acting are often
difficult to estimate, and people may agree in an end without agreeing
in the means. Still, he pays too little attention to the sentimental
likings and dislikings that frequently overbear the sense of Utility;
scarcely recognizing it, except in one passage, where he dwells on the
superstitions that mingle with a regard to the consequences of actions
in determining right.
We shall now repeat the leading points of Hume's system, in the usual
I.--The Standard of Right and Wrong is Utility, or a reference to the
Happiness of mankind. This is the ground, as wall as the motive, of
II.--As to the nature of the Moral Faculty, he contends that it is a
compound of Reason, and Humane or Generous Sentiment.
He does not introduce the subject of Free-will into Morals.
He contends strongly for the existence of Disinterested Sentiment, or
Benevolence; but scarcely recognizes it as leading to absolute and
uncompensated self-sacrifice. He does not seem to see that as far as
the approbation of benevolent actions is concerned, we are anything but
disinterested parties. The good done by one man is done to some others;
and the recipients are moved by their self-love to encourage
beneficence. The regard to our own benefactor makes all benefactors
III.--He says little directly bearing on the constituents of Human
Happiness; but that little is all in favour of simplicity of life and
cheap pleasures. He does not reflect that the pleasures singled out by
him are far from cheap; 'agreeable conversation, society, study,
health, and the beauties of nature,' although not demanding
extraordinary wealth, cannot be secured without a larger share of
worldly means than has ever fallen to the mass of men in any community.
IV.--As to the substance of the Moral Code, he makes no innovations. He
talks somewhat more lightly of the evils of Unchastity than is
customary; but regards the prevailing restraints as borne out by
The inducements to virtue are, in his view, our humane sentiments, on
the one hand, and our self-love, or prudence, on the other; the two
classes of motives conspiring to promote both our own good and the good
V.--The connexion of Ethics with Politics is not specially brought out.
The political virtues are moral virtues. He does not dwell upon the
sanctions of morality, so as to distinguish the legal sanction from the
popular sanction. He draws no line between Duty and Merit.
VI.--He recognizes no relationship between Ethics and Theology. The
principle of Benevolence in the human mind is, he thinks, an adequate
source of moral approbation and disapprobation; and he takes no note of
what even sceptics (Gibbon, for example) often dwell upon, the aid of
the Theological sanction in enforcing duties imperfectly felt by the
natural and unprompted sentiments of the mind.
RICHARD PRICE. (1723-1791.)
Price's work is entitled, 'A Review of the principal questions in
Morals; particularly those respecting the Origin of our Ideas of
Virtue, its Nature, Relation to the Deity, Obligation, Subject-matter,
and Sanctions.' In the third edition, he added an Appendix on 'the
Being and Attributes of the Deity.'
The book is divided into ten chapters.
Chapter I. is on the origin of our Ideas of Right and Wrong. The
actions of moral agents, he says, give rise in us to three different
perceptions: 1st, Right and Wrong; 2nd, Beauty and Deformity; 3rd, Good
or Ill Desert. It is the first of these perceptions that he proposes
mainly to consider.
He commences by quoting Hutcheson's doctrine of a Moral Sense, which he
describes as an _implanted_ and _arbitrary_ principle, imparting a
relish or disrelish for actions, like the sensibilities of the various
senses. On this doctrine, he remarks, the Creator might have annexed
the same sentiments to the opposite actions. Other schemes of morality,
such as Self-love, Positive Laws and Compacts, the Will of the Deity,
he dismisses as not meeting the true question.
The question, as conceived by him, is, 'What is the power within us
that perceives the distinctions of Right and Wrong?' The answer is, The
To establish this position, he enters into an enquiry into the distinct
provinces of Sense and of Understanding in the origin of our ideas. It
is plain, he says, that what judges concerning the perceptions of the
senses, and contradicts their decisions, cannot itself be sense, but
must be some nobler faculty. Likewise, the power that views and
compares the objects of all the senses cannot be sense. Sense is a mere
capacity of being passively impressed; it presents _particular_ forms
to the mind, and is incapable of discovering general truths. It is the
understanding that perceives order or proportion; variety and
regularity; design, connexion, art, and power; aptitudes, dependence,
correspondence, and adjustment of parts to a whole or to an end. He
goes over our leading ideas in detail, to show that mere sense cannot
furnish them. Thus, Solidity, or Impenetrability, needs an exertion of
reason; we must compare instances to know that two atoms of matter
cannot occupy the same space. _Vis Inerticae_ is a perception of the
reason. So Substance, Duration, Space, Necessary Existence, Power, and
Causation involve the understanding. Likewise, that all Abstract Ideas
whatsoever require the understanding is superfluously proved. The
author wonders, therefore, that his position in this matter should not
have been sooner arrived at.
The tracing of Agreement and of Disagreement, which are functions of
the Understanding, is really the source of simple ideas. Thus, Equality
is a simple idea originating in this source; so are Proportion,
Identity and Diversity, Existence, Cause and Effect, Power, Possibility
and Impossibility; and (as he means ultimately to show) Right and
Although the author's exposition is not very lucid, his main conclusion
is a sound one. Sense, in its narrowest acceptation, gives particular
impressions and experiences of Colour, Sound, Touch, Taste, Odour, &c.
The Intellectual functions of Discrimination and Agreement are
necessary as a supplement to Sense, to recognize these impressions as
differing and agreeing, as Equal or Unequal; Proportionate or
Disproportionate; Harmonious or Discordant. And farther, every abstract
or general notion,--colours in the abstract, sweetness, pungency,
&c.--supposes these, powers of the understanding in addition to the
recipiency of the senses.
To apply this to Right and Wrong, the author begins by affirming [what
goes a good way towards begging the question] that right and wrong are
simple ideas, and therefore the result of an _immediate_ power of
perception in the human mind. Beneficence and Cruelty are indefinable,
and therefore ultimate. There must be some actions that are in the last
resort an end in themselves. This being assumed, the author contends
that the power of immediately perceiving these ultimate ideas is the
Understanding. Shaftesbury had contended that, because the perception
of right and wrong was immediate, therefore it must reside in a special
Sense. The conclusion, thinks Price, was, to say the least of it,
hasty; for it does not follow that every immediate perception should
reside in a special sensibility or sense. He puts it to each one's
experience whether, in conceiving Gratitude or Beneficence to be right,
one feels a sensation merely, or performs an act of understanding.
'Would not a Being purely intelligent, having happiness within his
reach, approve of securing it for himself? Would he not think this
right; and would it not be right? When we contemplate the happiness of
a species, or of a world, and pronounce on the actions of reasonable
beings which promote it, that they are _right_, is this judging
erroneously? Or is it no determination of the judgment at all, but a
species of mental taste [as Shaftesbury and Hutcheson supposed]? [As
against a moral sense, this reasoning may be effective; but it
obviously assumes an end of desire,--happiness for self, or for
others--and yet does not allow to that end any share in making up the
sense of right and wrong.] Every one, the author goes on to say, must
desire happiness for himself; and our rational nature thenceforth must
approve of the actions for promoting happiness, and disapprove of the
contrary actions. Surely the understanding has some share in the
revulsion that we feel when any one brings upon himself, or upon
others, calamity and ruin. A being flattered with hopes of bliss and
then plunged into torments would complain _justly_; he would consider
that violence had been done to a perception of the human
He next brings out a metaphysical difficulty in applying right and
wrong to actions, on the supposition that they are mere effects of
sensation. All sensations, as such, are modes of consciousness, or
feelings, of a sentient being, and must be of a nature different from
their causes. Colour is in the mind, not an attribute of the object;
but right and wrong are qualities of actions, of objects, and therefore
must be ideas, not sensations. Then, again, there can be nothing true
or untrue in a sensation; all sensations are alike just; while the
moral rectitude of an action is something absolute and unvarying.
Lastly, all actions have a nature, or character; something truly
belonging to them, and truly affirmable of them. If actions have no
character, then they are all indifferent; but this no one can affirm;
we all strongly believe the contrary. Actions are not indifferent. They
are good or bad, better or worse. And if so, they are declared such by
an act of _judgment_, a function of the understanding.
The author, considering his thesis established, deduces from it the
corollary, that morality is _eternal and immutable_. As an object of
the Understanding, it has an invariable essence. No will, not even
Omnipotence, can make _things_ other than they are. Right and wrong, as
far as they express the real characters of actions, must immutably and
necessarily belong to the actions. By action, is of course understood
not a bare external effect, but an effect taken along with its
principle or rule, the motives or reasons of the being that performs
it. The matter of an action being the same, its morality reposes upon
the end or motive of the agent. Nothing can be obligatory in us that
was not so from eternity. The will of God could not make a thing right
that was not right in its own nature.
The author closes his first chapter with a criticism of the doctrine of
Protagoras--that man is the measure of all things--interpreting it as
another phase of the view that he is combating.
Although this chapter is but a small part of the work, it completes the
author's demonstration of his ethical theory.
Chapter II. is on 'our Ideas of the Beauty and Deformity of Actions.'
By these are meant our pleasurable and painful sentiments, arising from
the consideration of moral right and wrong, expressed by calling some
actions amiable, and others odious, shocking, vile. Although, in this
aspect of actions, it would seem that the reference to a sense is the
suitable explanation, he still contends for the intervention of the
Understanding. The character of the Deity must appear more amiable the
better it is _known_ and _understood_. A reasonable being, without any
special sensibilities, but knowing what order and happiness are, would
receive pleasure from the contemplation of a universe where order
prevailed, and pain from a prospect of the contrary. To _behold_ virtue
is to admire her; to _perceive_ vice is to be moved to condemnation.
There must always be a consideration of the circumstances of an action,
and this involves intellectual discernment.
The author now qualifies his doctrine by the remark, that to some
superior beings the intellectual discernment may explain the whole of
the appearances, but inferior natures, such as the human, are aided by
_instinctive determinations_. Our appetites and passions are too strong
for reason by itself, especially in early years. Hence he is disposed
to conclude that 'in contemplating the actions of moral agents, we have
both _a perception of the understanding_ and _a feeling of the heart;'_
but that this feeling of the heart, while partly instinctive, is mainly
a sense of congruity and incongruity in actions. The author therefore
allows something to innate sense, but differs from Shaftesbury, who
makes the whole a matter of intuitive determination.
Chapter III. relates to the origin of our Desires and Affections, by
which he means more especially Self-love and Benevolence. His position
here is that Self-love is the essence of a Sensible being, Benevolence
the essential of an Intelligent being. By the very nature of our
sensitive constitution, we cannot but choose happiness for self; and it
is only an act of intellectual consistency to extend the same measure
to others. The same qualification, however, is made as to the
insufficiency of a mere intellectual impulse in this matter, without
constitutional tendencies. These constitutional tendencies the author
considers as made up of our Appetites and Passions, while our
Affections are founded on our rational nature. Then follow a few
observations in confirmation of Butler's views as to the disinterested
nature of our affections.
Chapter IV. is on our Ideas of good and ill Desert. These are only a
variety of our ideas of right and wrong, being the feelings excited
towards the moral Agent. Our reason determines, with regard to a
virtuous agent, that he ought to be the better for his virtue. The
ground of such determination, however, is not solely that virtuous
conduct promotes the happiness of mankind, and vice detracts from it;
this counts for much, but not for all. Virtue is in itself rewardable;
vice is of essential demerit. Our understanding recognizes the absolute
and eternal rectitude, the intrinsic fitness of the procedure in both
Chapter V. is entitled 'Of the Reference of Morality to the Divine
Nature; the Rectitude of our Faculties; and the Grounds of Belief.' The
author means to reply to the objection that his system, in setting up a
criterion independent of God, is derogatory to the Divine nature. He
urges that there must be attributes of the Deity, independent of his
will; as his Existence, Immensity, Power, Wisdom; that Mind supposes
Truth apart from itself; that without moral distinctions there could be
no Moral Attributes in the Deity. Certain things are inherent in his
Nature, and not dependent on his will. There is a limit to the universe
itself; two infinities of space or of duration are not possible. The
necessary goodness of the divine nature is a part of necessary truth.
Thus, morality, although not asserted to depend on the will of the
Deity, is still resolvable into his nature. In all this, Price avowedly
He then starts another difficulty. May not our faculties be mistaken,
or be so constituted as to deceive us? To which he gives the reply,
made familiar to us by Hamilton, that the doubt is suicidal; the
faculty that doubts being itself under the same imputation. Nay, more,
a being cannot be made such as to be imposed on by falsehood; what is
false is nothing. As to the cases of actual mistake, these refer to
matters attended with some difficulty; and it does not follow that we
must be mistaken in cases that are clear.
He concludes with a statement of the ultimate grounds of our belief.
These are, (1) Consciousness or Feeling, as in regard to our own
existence, our sensations, passions, &c.; (2) Intuition, comprising
self-evident truths; and (3) Deduction, or Argumentation. He discusses
under these the existence of a material world, and affirms that we have
an Intuition that it is _possible_.
Chapter VI. considers Fitness and Moral Obligation, and other
prevailing forms of expression regarding morality. Fitness and
Unfitness denote Congruity or Incongruity, and are necessarily a
perception of the Understanding.
The term Obligation is more perplexing. Still, it is but another name
for _Rightness_. What is Right is, by that very fact, obligatory.
Obligation, therefore, cannot be the creature of law, for law may
command what is morally wrong. The will of God enforced by rewards and
punishments cannot make right; it would only determine what is
_prudent_. Rewards and punishments do not make obligation, but suppose
it. Rectitude is a LAW, the authoritative guide of a rational being. It
is Supreme, universal, unalterable, and indispensable. Self-valid and
self-originated, it stands on immovable foundations. Being the one
authority in nature, it is, in short, the Divine authority. Even the
obligations of religion are but branches of universal rectitude. The
Sovereign Authority is not the mere result of his Almighty Power, but
of this conjoined with his necessary perfections and infinite
He does not admit that obligation implies an obliger.
He takes notice of the objection that certain actions may be right, and
yet we are not bound to perform them; such are acts of generosity and
kindness. But his answer throws no farther light on his main doctrine.
In noticing the theories of other writers in the same vein, as
Wollaston, he takes occasion to remark that, together with the
perception of conformity or fitness, there is a simple immediate
perception urging us to act according to that fitness, for which no
farther reason can be assigned. When we compare innocence and eternal
misery, we are struck with the idea of unsuitableness, and are inspired
in consequence with intense repugnance.
Chapter VII. discusses the Heads or Divisions of Virtue; under which he
enquires first what are virtuous actions; secondly, what is the true
principle or motive of a virtuous agent; and thirdly, the estimate of
the degrees of virtue.
He first quotes Butler to show that all virtue is not summed up in
Benevolence; repeating that there is an intrinsic rectitude in keeping
faith; and giving the usual arguments against Utility, grounded on the
supposed crimes that might be committed on this plea. He is equally
opposed to those that would deny disinterested benevolence, or would
resolve beneficence into veracity. He urges against Hutcheson, that,
these being independent and distinct virtues, a distinct sense would be
necessary to each; in other words, we should, for the whole of virtue,
need a plurality of moral senses.
His classification of Virtue comprehends (1) Duty to God, which he
dilates upon at some length. (2) Duty to Ourselves, wherein he
maintains that our sense of self-interest is not enough for us. (3)
Beneficence, the Good of others. (4) Gratitude. (5) Veracity, which he
inculcates with great earnestness, adverting especially to impartiality
and honesty in our enquiries after truth. (6) Justice, which he treats
in its application to the Rights of Property. He considers that the
difficulties in practice arise partly from the conflict of the
different heads, and partly from the different modes of applying the
same principles; which he gives as an answer to the objection from the
great differences of men's moral sentiments and practices. He allows,
besides, that custom, education, and example, may blind and deprave our
intellectual and moral powers; but denies that the whole of our notions
and sentiments could result from education. No amount of depravity is
able utterly to destroy our moral discernment.
Chapter VIII. treats of Intention as an element in virtuous action. He
makes a distinction between Virtue in the Abstract and Virtue in
Practice, or with reference to all the circumstances of the agent. A
man may do abstract wrong, through mistake, while as he acts with his
best judgment and with upright intentions, he is practically right. He
grounds on this a powerful appeal against every attempt at dominion
over conscience. The requisites of Practical Morality are (1) Liberty,
or Free-will, on which he takes the side of free-agency. (2)
Intelligence, without which there can be no perception of good and
evil, and no moral agency. (3) The Consciousness of Rectitude, or
Righteous Intention. On this he dwells at some length. No action is
properly the action of a moral agent unless designed by him. A virtuous
motive is essential to virtue. On the question--Is Benevolence a
virtuous motive? he replies: Not the Instinctive benevolence of the
parent, but only Rational benevolence; which he allows to coincide with
rectitude. Reason presiding over Self-love renders it a virtuous
principle likewise. The presence of Reason in greater or less degree is
the criterion of the greater or less virtue of any action.
Chapter IX. is on the different Degrees of Virtue and Vice, and the
modes of estimating them; the Difficulties attending the Practice of
Virtue; the use of Trials, and the essentials of a good or a bad
Character. The considerations adduced are a number of perfectly
well-known maxims on the practice of morality, and scarcely add
anything to the elucidation of the author's Moral Theory. The
concluding chapter, on Natural Religion, contains nothing original.
To sum up the views of Price:--
I.--As regards the Moral Standard, he asserts that a perception of the
Reason or the Understanding,--a sense of fitness or congruity between
actions and the agents, and all the circumstances attending them,--is
what determines Right and Wrong.
He finds it impracticable to maintain his position without sundry
qualifications, as we have seen. Virtue is naturally adapted to
_please_ every observing mind; vice the contrary. Right actions must be
_grateful_, wrong ungrateful to us. To _behold_ virtue is to _admire_
her. In contemplating the actions of moral agents, we have _both_ a
perception of the understanding and a feeling of the heart. He thus
re-admits an element of feeling, along with the intellect, in some
undefined degree; contending only that _all morality_ is not to be
resolved into feeling or instinct. We have also noticed another
singular admission, to the effect that only superior natures can
discover virtue by the understanding. Reason alone, did we possess it
in a high degree, would answer all the ends of the passions. Parental
affection would be unnecessary, if parents were sufficiently alive to
the reasons of supporting the young, and were virtuous enough to be
always determined by them.
Utility, although not the _sole_ ground of Justice, is yet admitted to
be _one_ important reason or ground of many of its maxims.
II.--The nature of the Moral Faculty, in Price's theory, is not a
separate question from the standard, but the same question. His
discussion takes the form of an enquiry into the Faculty:--'What is the
power within us that perceives the distinctions of Right and Wrong?'
The two questions are mixed up throughout, to the detriment of
precision in the reasoning.
With his usual facility of making concessions to other principles, he
says it is not easy to determine how far our natural sentiments may be
altered by custom, education, and example: while it would be
unreasonable to conclude that all is derived from these sources. That
part of our moral constitution depending on instinct is liable to be
corrupted by custom and education to almost any length; but the most
depraved can never sink so low as to lose all moral discernment, all
ideas of just and unjust; of which he offers the singular proof that
men are never wanting in resentment when they are _themselves_ the
objects of ill-treatment.
As regards the Psychology of Disinterested Action, he provides nothing
but a repetition of Butler (Chapter III.) and a vague assertion of the
absurdity of denying disinterested benevolence.
III.--On Human Happiness, he has only a few general remarks. Happiness
is an object of essential and eternal value. Happiness is the _end_,
and the _only_ end, conceivable by us, of God's providence and
government; but He pursues this end in subordination to rectitude.
Virtue tends to happiness, but does not always secure it. A person that
sacrifices his life rather than violate his conscience, or betray his
country, gives up all possibility of any present reward, and loses the
more in proportion as his virtue is more glorious.
Neither on the Moral Code, nor in the relations of Ethics to Politics
and to Theology, are any further remarks on Price called for.
ADAM SMITH. [1723-90.]
The 'Theory of the Moral Sentiments' is a work of great extent and
elaboration. It is divided into five Parts; each part being again
divided into Sections, and these subdivided into Chapters.
PART I. is entitled, OF THE PROPRIETY OF ACTION. _Section I._ is, _'Of
the Sense of Propriety.'_ Propriety is his word for Rectitude or Right.
Chapter I., entitled, 'Of Sympathy,' is a felicitous illustration of
the general nature and workings of Sympathy. He calls in the experience
of all mankind to attest the existence of our sympathetic impulses. He
shows through what medium sympathy operates; namely, by our placing
ourselves in the situation of the other party, and imagining what we
should feel in that case. He produces the most notable examples of the
impressions made on us by our witnessing the actions, the pleasurable
and the painful expression of others; effects extending even to
fictitious representations. He then remarks that, although on some
occasions, we take on simply and purely the feelings manifested in our
presence,--the grief or joy of another man, yet this is far from the
universal case: a display of angry passion may produce in us hostility
and disgust; but this very result may be owing to our sympathy for the
person likely to suffer from the anger. So our sympathy for grief or
for joy is imperfect until we know the cause, and may be entirely
suppressed. We take the whole situation into view, as well as the
expression of the feeling. Hence we often feel for another person what
that person does not feel for himself; we act out our own view of the
situation, not his. We feel for the insane what they do not feel; we
sympathize even with the dead.
Chapter II. is 'Of the Pleasure of Mutual Sympathy.' It contains
illustrations of the delight that we experience in the sympathy of
others; we being thereby strengthened in our pleasures and relieved in
our miseries. He observes that we demand this sympathy more urgently
for our painful emotions than for such as are pleasurable; we are
especially intolerant of the omission of our friends to join in our
resentments. On the other hand, we feel pleasure in the act of
sympathizing, and find in that a compensation for the pain that the
sight of pain gives us. Still, this pleasure may be marred if the other
party's own expression of grief or of joy is beyond what we think
suitable to the situation.
Chapter III. considers 'the manner of our judging of the propriety of
other men's affections by their consonance with our own,' The author
illustrates the obvious remark, that we approve of the passions of
another, if they are such as we ourselves should feel in the same
situation. We require that a man's expression and conduct should be
suitable to the occasion, according to our own standard of judging,
namely, our own procedure in such cases.
Chapter IV. continues the subject, and draws a distinction between two
cases; the case where the objects of a feeling do not concern either
ourselves or the person himself, and the case where they do concern one
or other. The first case is shown in matters of taste and science,
where we derive pleasure from sympathy, but yet can tolerate
difference. The other case is exemplified in our personal fortunes; in
these, we cannot endure any one refusing us their sympathy. Still, it
is to be noted that the sympathizer does not fully attain the level of
the sufferer; hence the sufferer, aware of this, and desiring the
satisfaction of a full accord with his friend, tones down his own
vehemence till it can be fully met by the other; which very
circumstance is eventually for his own good, and adds to, rather than
detracts from, the tranquillizing influence of a friendly presence. We
sober down our feelings still more before casual acquaintance and
strangers; and hence the greater equality of temper in the man of the
world than in the recluse.
Chapter V. makes an application of these remarks to explain the
difference between the Amiable and the Respectable Virtues. The soft,
the gentle, and the amiable qualities are manifested when, as
sympathizers, we enter fully into the expressed sentiments of another;
the great, the awful and respectable virtues of self-denial, are shown
when the principal person concerned brings down his own case to the
level that the most ordinary sympathy can easily attain to. The one is
the virtue of giving much, the other of expecting little.
_Section II._ is '_Of the Degrees of the different passions which are
consistent with propriety_.' Under this head he reviews the leading
passions, remarks how far, and why, we can sympathize with each.
Chapter I. is on the Passions having their origin in the body. We can
sympathize with hunger to a certain limited extent, and in certain
circumstances; but we can rarely tolerate any very prominent expression
of it. The same limitations apply to the passion of the sexes. We
partly sympathize with bodily pain, but not with the violent expression
of it. These feelings are in marked contrast to the passions seated in
the imagination: wherein our appetite for sympathy is complete;
disappointed love or ambition, loss of friends or of dignity, are
suitable to representation in art. On the same principle, we can
sympathize with danger; as regards our power of conceiving, we are on a
level with the sufferer. From our inability to enter into bodily pain,
we the more admire the man that can bear it with firmness.
Chapter II. is on certain Passions depending on a peculiar turn of the
Imagination. Under this he exemplifies chiefly the situation of two
lovers, with whose passion, in its intensity, a third person cannot
sympathize, although one may enter into the hopes of happiness, and
into the dangers and calamities often flowing from it.
Chapter III. is on the Unsocial Passions. These necessarily divide our
sympathy between him that feels them and him that is their object.
Resentment is especially hard to sympathize with. We may ourselves
resent wrong done to another, but the less so that the sufferer
strongly resents it. Moreover, there is in the passion itself an
element of the disagreeable and repulsive; its manifestation is
naturally distasteful. It may be useful and even necessary, but so is a
prison, which is not on that account a pleasant object. In order to
make its gratification agreeable, there must be many well known
conditions and qualifications attending it.
Chapter IV. gives the contrast of the Social Passions. It is with the
humane, the benevolent sentiments, that our sympathy is unrestricted
and complete. Even in their excess, they never inspire aversion.
Chapter V. is on the Selfish Passions. He supposes these, in regard to
sympathy, to hold a middle place between the social and the unsocial.
We sympathize with small joys and with great sorrows; and not with
great joys (which dispense with our aid, if they do not excite our
envy) or with small troubles.
_Section III_. considers _the effects of prosperity and adversity upon
the judgments of mankind regarding propriety of action_.
Chapter I. puts forward the proposition that our sympathy with sorrow,
although more lively than our sympathy with joy, falls short of the
intensity of feeling in the person concerned. It is agreeable to
sympathize with joy, and we do so with the heart; the painfulness of
entering into grief and misery holds us back. Hence, as he remarked
before, the magnanimity and nobleness of the man that represses his
woes, and does not exact our compassionate participation.
Chapter II. inquires into the origin of Ambition, and of the
distinction of Ranks. Proceeding upon the principle just enounced, that
mankind sympathize with joy rather than with sorrow, the author
composes an exceedingly eloquent homily on the worship paid to rank and
Chapter III., in continuation of the same theme, illustrates the
corruption of our moral sentiments, arising from this worship of the
great. 'We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more
strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise
and the virtuous.' 'The external graces, the frivolous accomplishments
of that impertinent and foolish thing called a man of fashion, are
commonly more admired than the solid and masculine virtues of a
warrior, a statesman, a philosopher, or a legislator.'
PART II. is OF MERIT AND DEMERIT; OR OF THE OBJECTS OF REWARD AND
PUNISHMENT. It consists of three Sections.
_Section I_. is, _Of the Sense of Merit and Demerit_.
Chapter I. maintains that whatever appears to be the proper object of
gratitude, appears to deserve reward; and that whatever appears to be
the proper object of resentment, appears to deserve punishment. The
author distinguishes between gratitude and mere love or liking; and,
obversely, between resentment and hatred. Love makes us pleased to see
any one promoted; but gratitude urges us to be ourselves the instrument
of their promotion.
Chapter II. determines the proper objects of Gratitude and Resentment,
these being also the proper objects of Reward and Punishment
respectively. 'These, as well as all the other passions of human
nature, seem proper, and are approved of, _when the heart of every
impartial spectator entirely sympathizes with them_, when every
indifferent by-stander entirely enters into, and goes along with them.'
In short, a good moral decision is obtained by the unanimous vote of
all impartial persons.
This view is in accordance with the course taken by the mind in the two
contrasting situations. In sympathizing with the joy of a prosperous
person, we approve of his complacent and grateful sentiment towards the
author of his prosperity; we make his gratitude our own: in
sympathizing with sorrow, we enter into, and approve of, the natural
resentment towards the agent causing it.
Chapter III. remarks that where we do not approve of the conduct of the
person conferring the benefit, we have little sympathy with the
gratitude of the receiver; we do not care to enter into the gratitude
of the favourites of profligate monarchs.
Chapter IV. supposes the case of our approving strongly the conduct and
the motives of a benefactor, in which case we sympathize to a
corresponding degree with the gratitude of the receiver.
Chapter V. sums up the analysis of the Sense of Merit and of Demerit
thus:--The sense of Merit is a compound sentiment, made up of two
distinct emotions; a direct sympathy with the sentiments of the agent
(constituting the propriety of the action), and an indirect sympathy
with the gratitude of the recipient. The sense of Demerit includes a
direct antipathy to the sentiments of the agent, and an indirect
sympathy with the resentment of the sufferer.
_Section II_. is _Of Justice and Beneficence_.
Chapter I. compares the two virtues. Actions of a beneficent tendency,
from proper motives, seem alone to require a reward; actions of a
hurtful tendency, from improper motives, seem alone to deserve
punishment. It is the nature of Beneficence to be free; the mere
absence of it does not expose to punishment. Of all the duties of
beneficence, the one most allied to perfect obligation is gratitude;
but although we talk of the debt of gratitude (we do not say the debt
of _charity_), we do not punish ingratitude.
Resentment, the source of punishment, is given for defence against
positive evil; we employ it not to extort benefits, but to repel
injuries. Now, the injury is the violation of Justice. The sense of
mankind goes along with the employment of violence to avenge the hurt
done by injustice, to prevent the injury, and to restrain the offender.
Beneficence, then, is the subject of reward; and the want of it is not
the subject of punishment. There may be cases where a beneficent act is
compelled by punishment, as in obliging a father to support his family,
or in punishing a man for not interfering when another is in danger;
but these cases are immaterial exceptions to the broad definition. He
might have added, that in cases where justice is performed under
unusual difficulties, and with unusual fidelity, our disposition would
be not merely to exempt from punishment, but to reward.
Chapter II. considers the sense of Justice, Remorse, and the feeling of
Every man is recommended by nature to his own care, being fitter to
take care of himself than of another person. We approve, therefore, of
each one seeking their own good; but then it must not be to the hurt of
any other being. The primary feeling of self-preservation would not of
itself, however, be shocked at causing injury to our fellows. It is
when we pass out of this point of view, and enter into the mental state
of the spectator of our actions, that we feel the sense of injustice
and the sting of Remorse. Though it may be true that every individual
in his own breast prefers himself to mankind, yet he dares not look
mankind in the face, and avow that he acts on this principle. A man is
approved when he outstrips his fellows in a fair race; he is condemned
when he jostles or trips up a competitor unfairly. The actor takes home
to himself this feeling; a feeling known as Shame, Dread of Punishment,
So with the obverse. He that performs a generous action can realize the
sentiments of the by-stander, and applaud himself by sympathy with the
approbation of the supposed impartial judge. This is the sense of
Chapter III. gives reflections upon the utility of this constitution of
our nature. Human beings are dependent upon one another for mutual
assistance, and are exposed to mutual injuries. Society might exist
without love or beneficence, but not without mutual abstinence from
injury. Beneficence is the ornament that embellishes the building;
Justice the main pillar that supports it. It is for the observance of
Justice that we need that consciousness of ill-desert, and those
terrors of mental punishment, growing out of our sympathy with the
disapprobation of our fellows. Justice is necessary to the existence of
society, and we often defend its dictates on that ground; but, without
looking to such a remote and comprehensive end, we are plunged into
remorse for its violation by the shorter process of referring to the
censure of a supposed spectator [in other words, to the sanction of
_Section III.--Of the influence of Fortune upon the sentiments of
mankind, with regard to the Merit and the Demerit of actions_.
Every voluntary action consists of three parts:--(1) the Intention or
motive, (2) the Mechanism, as when we lift the hand, and give a blow,
and (3) the Consequences. It is, in principle, admitted by all, that
only the first, the Intention, can be the subject of blame. The
Mechanism is in itself indifferent. So the Consequences cannot be
properly imputed to the agent, unless intended by him. On this last
point, however, mankind do not always adhere to their general maxim;
when they come to particular cases, they are influenced, in their
estimate of merit and demerit, by the actual consequences of the
Chapter I. considers the causes of this influence of Fortune. Gratitude
requires, in the first instance, that some pleasure should have been
conferred; Resentment pre-supposes pain. These passions require farther
that the object of them should itself be susceptible of pleasure and
pain; they should be human beings or animals. Thirdly, It is requisite
that they should have produced the effects from a design to do so. Now,
the absence of the pleasurable consequences intended by a beneficent
agent leaves out one of the exciting causes of gratitude, although
including another; the absence of the painful consequences of a
maleficent act leaves out one of the exciting causes of resentment;
hence less gratitude seems due in the one, and less resentment in the
Chapter II. treats of the extent of this influence of Fortune. The
effects of it are, first, to diminish, in our eyes, the merit of
laudable, and the demerit of blameable, actions, when they fail of
their intended effects; and, secondly, to increase the feelings of
merit and of demerit beyond what is due to the motives, when the
actions chance to be followed by extraordinary pleasure or pain.
Success enhances our estimate of all great enterprises; failure takes
off the edge of our resentment of great crimes.
The author thinks (Chapter III.) that final causes can be assigned for
this irregularity of Sentiments. In the first place, it would be highly
dangerous to seek out and to resent mere bad intentions. In the next
place, it is desirable that beneficent wishes should be put to the
proof by results. And, lastly, as regards the tendency to resent evil,
although unintended, it is good to a certain extent that men should be
taught intense circumspection on the point of infringing one another's
PART III. is entitled OF THE FOUNDATION OF OUR JUDGMENTS CONCERNING OUR
OWN SENTIMENTS AND CONDUCT, AND OF THE SENSE OF DUTY.
Chapter I. is 'Of the Principle of Self-approbation and of
Self-disapprobation.' Having previously assigned the origin of our
judgments respecting others, the author now proceeds to trace out our
judgments respecting ourselves. The explanation is still the same. We
approve or disapprove of our own conduct, according as we feel that the
impartial spectator would approve or disapprove of it.
To a solitary human being, moral judgments would never exist. A man
would no more think of the merit and demerit of his sentiments than of
the beauty or deformity of his own face. Such criticism is exercised
first upon other beings; but the critic cannot help seeing that he in
his turn is criticised, and he is thereby led to apply the common
standard to his own actions; to divide himself as it were into two
persons--the examiner or judge, and person examined into, or judged of.
He knows what conduct of his will be approved of by others, and what
condemned, according to the standard he himself employs upon others;
his concurrence in this approbation or disapprobation is
self-approbation or self-disapprobation. The happy consciousness of
virtue is the consciousness of the favourable regards of other men.
Chapter II. is 'Of the love of Praise, and of Praise-worthiness; the
dread of Blame, and of Blame-worthiness;' a long and important chapter.
The author endeavours to trace, according to his principle of sympathy,
the desire of Praise-worthiness, as well as of Praise. We approve
certain conduct in others, and are thus disposed to approve the same
conduct in ourselves: what we praise as judges of our fellow-men, we
deem praise-worthy, and aspire to realize in our own conduct. Some men
may differ from us, and may withhold that praise; we may be pained at
the circumstance, but we adhere to our love of the praise-worthy, even
when it does not bring the praise. When we obtain the praise we are
pleased, and strengthened in our estimate; the approbation that we
receive confirms our self-approbation, but does not give birth to it.
In short, there are two principles at work within us. We are pleased
with approbation, and pained by reproach: we are farther pleased if the
approbation coincides with what we approve when we are ourselves acting
as judges of other men. The two dispositions vary in their strength in
individuals, confirming each other when in concert, thwarting each
other when opposed. The author has painted a number of striking
situations arising out of their conflict. He enquires why we are more
pained by unmerited reproach, than lifted up by unmerited approbation;
and assigns as the reason that the painful state is more pungent than
the corresponding pleasurable state. He shows how those men whose
productions are of uncertain merit, as poets, are more the slaves of
approbation, than the authors of unmistakeable discoveries in science.
In the extreme cases of unmerited reproach, he points out the appeal to
the all-seeing Judge of the world, and to a future state rightly
conceived; protesting, however, against the view that would reserve the
celestial regions for monks and friars, and condemn to the infernal,
all the heroes, statesmen, poets, and philosophers of former ages; all
the inventors of the useful arts; the protectors, instructors, and
benefactors of mankind; and all those to whom our natural sense of
praise-worthiness forces us to ascribe the highest merit and most
Chapter III. is 'On the influence and authority of Conscience;' another
long chapter, occupied more with moral reflections of a practical kind
than with the following out of the analysis of our moral sentiment.
Conceding that the testimony of the supposed impartial spectator does
not of itself always support a man, he yet asserts its influence to be
great, and that by it alone we can see what relates to ourselves in the
proper shape and dimensions. It is only in this way that we can prefer
the interest of many to the interest of one; the interest of others to
our own. To fortify us in this hard lesson two different schemes have
been proposed; one to increase our feelings for others, the other to
diminish our feelings for ourselves. The first is prescribed by the
whining and melancholy moralists, who will never allow us to be happy,
because at every moment many of our fellow-beings are in misery. The
second is the doctrine of the Stoics, who annihilate self-interest in
favour of the vast commonwealth of nature; on that the author bestows a
lengthened comment and correction, founded on his theory of regulating
the manifestations of joy or grief by the light of the impartial judge.
He gives his own panacea for human misery, namely, the power of nature
to accommodate men to their permanent situation, and to restore
tranquillity, which is the one secret of happiness.
Chapter IV. handles Self-Deceit, and the Origin and Use of General
Rules. The interference of our passions is the great obstacle to our
holding towards ourselves the position of an impartial spectator. Prom
this notorious fact the author deduces an argument against a special
moral faculty, or moral sense; he says that if we had such a faculty,
it would surely judge our own passions, which are the most clearly laid
open to it, more correctly than the passions of others.
To correct our self-partiality and self-deceit is the use of general
rules. Our repeated observations on the tendency of particular acts,
teach us what is fit to be done generally; and our conviction of the
propriety of the general rules is a powerful motive for applying them
to our own case. It is a mistake to suppose, as some have done, that
rules precede experience; on the contrary, they are formed by finding
from experience that all actions of a certain kind, in certain
circumstances, are approved of. When established, we appeal to them as
standards of judgment in right and wrong, but they are not the original
judgments of mankind, nor the ultimate foundations of moral sentiment.
Chapter V. continues the subject of the authority and influence of
General Rules, maintaining that they are justly regarded as laws of the
Deity. The grand advantage of general rules is to give steadiness to
human conduct, and to enable us to resist our temporary varieties of
temper and disposition. They are thus a grand security for human
duties. That the important rules of morality should be accounted laws
of the Deity is a natural sentiment. Men have always ascribed to their
deities their own sentiments and passions; the deities held by them in
special reverence, they have endowed with their highest ideal of
excellence, the love of virtue and beneficence, and the abhorrence of
vice and injustice. The researches of philosophical inquiry confirmed
mankind in the supposition that the moral faculties carry the badge of
authority, that they were intended as the governing principles of our
nature, acting as the vicegerents of the Deity. This inference is
confirmed by the view that the happiness of men, and of other rational
creatures, is the original design of the Author of nature, the only
purpose reconcilable with the perfections we ascribe to him.
Chapter VI. is on the cases where the Sense of Duty should be the sole
motive of conduct; and on those where it ought to join with other
motives. Allowing the importance of religion among human motives, he
does not concur with the view that would make religious considerations
the sole laudable motives of action. The sense of duty is not the only
principle of our conduct; it is the ruling or governing one. It may be
a question, however, on what occasions we are to proceed strictly by
the sense of duty, and on what occasions give way to some other
sentiment or affection. The author answers that in the actions prompted
by benevolent affections, we are to follow out our sentiments as much
as our sense of duty; and the contrary with the malevolent passions. As
to the selfish passions, we are to follow duty in small matters, and
self-interest in great. But the rules of duty predominate most in cases
where they are determined with exactness, that is, in the virtue of
PART IV. OF THE EFFECT OF UTILITY UPON THE SENTIMENT OF APPROBATION.
Chapter I. is on the Beauty arising out of Utility. It is here that the
author sets forth the dismal career of 'the poor man's son, whom heaven
in the hour of her anger has curst with ambition,' and enforces his
favourite moral lesson of contentment and tranquillity.
Chapter II. is the connexion of Utility with Moral Approbation. There
are many actions possessing the kind of beauty or charm arising from
utility; and hence, it may be maintained (as was done by Hume) that our
whole approbation of virtue may be explained on this principle. And it
may be granted that there is a coincidence between our sentiments of
approbation or disapprobation, and the useful or hurtful qualities of
actions. Still, the author holds that this utility or hurtfulness is
not the foremost or principal source of our approbation. In the first
place, he thinks it incongruous that we should have no other reason,
for praising a man than for praising a chest of drawers. In the next
place, he contends at length that the usefulness of a disposition of
mind is seldom the first ground of our approbation. Take, for example,
the qualities useful to ourselves--reason and self-command; we approve
the first as just and accurate, before we are aware of its being
useful; and as to self-command, we approve it quite as much for its
propriety as for its utility; it is the coincidence of our opinion with
the opinion of the spectator, and not an estimate of the comparative
utility, that affects us. Regarding the qualities useful to
others--humanity, generosity, public spirit and justice--he merely
repeats his own theory that they are approved by our entering into the
view of the impartial spectator. The examples cited only show that
these virtues are not approved from self-interest; as when the soldier
throws away his life to gain something for his sovereign. He also puts
the case of a solitary human being, who might see fitness in actions,
but could not feel moral approbation.
PART V. THE INFLUENCE OF CUSTOM ON THE MORAL SENTIMENTS.
The first chapter is a pleasing essay on the influence of custom and
fashion on manners, dress, and in Fine Art generally. The second
chapter makes the application to our moral sentiments. Although custom
will never reconcile us to the conduct of a Nero or a Claudius, it will
heighten or blunt the delicacy of our sentiments on right and wrong.
The fashion of the times of Charles II. made dissoluteness reputable,
and discountenanced regularity of conduct. There is a customary
behaviour that we expect in the old and in the young, in the clergyman
and in the military man. The situations of different ages and countries
develop characteristic qualities--endurance in the savage, humanity and
softness in the civilized community. But these are not the extreme
instances of the principle. We find particular usages, where custom has
rendered lawful and blameless actions, that shock the plainest
principles of right and wrong; the most notorious and universal is
PART VI. THE CHARACTER OF VIRTUE.
_Section I_. is on _Prudence_, and is an elegant essay on the _beau
ideal_ of the prudential character. _Section II_. considers _character
as affecting other people_. Chapter I. is a disquisition on the
comparative priority of the objects of our regard. After self, which
must ever have the first place, the members of our own family are
recommended to our consideration. Remoter connexions of blood are more
or less regarded according to the customs of the country; in pastoral
countries clanship is manifested; in commercial countries distant
relationship becomes indifferent. Official and business connexions, and
the association of neighbourhood, determine friendships. Special
estimation is a still preferable tie. Favours received determine and
require favours in return. The distinction of ranks is so far founded
in nature as to deserve our respect. Lastly, the miserable are
recommended to our compassion. Next, as regards societies (Chap. II.),
since our own country stands first in our regard, the author dilates on
the virtues of a good citizen. Finally, although our effectual good
offices may not extend beyond our country, our good-will may embrace
the whole universe. This universal benevolence, however, the author
thinks must repose on the belief in a benevolent and all-wise governor
of the world, as realized, for example, in the meditations of Marcus
_Section III. Of Self-command_. On this topic the author produces a
splendid moral essay, in which he describes the various modes of our
self-estimation, and draws a contrast between pride and vanity. In so
far as concerns his Ethical theory, he has still the same criterion of
the virtue, the degree and mode commended by the impartial spectator.
PART VII. OF SYSTEMS OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY.
On this we need only to remark that it is an interesting and valuable
contribution to the history and the criticism of the Ethical
The Ethical theory of Adam Smith may be thus summed up:--
I.--The Ethical Standard is the judgment of an impartial spectator or
critic; and our own judgments are derived by reference to what this
spectator would approve or disapprove.
Probably to no one has this ever appeared a sufficient account of Right
and Wrong. It provides against one defect, the self-partiality of the
agent; but gives no account whatever of the grounds of the critic's own
judgment, and makes no provision against his fallibility. It may be
very well on points where men's moral sentiments are tolerably
unanimous, but it is valueless in all questions where there are
fundamental differences of view.
II.--In the Psychology of Ethics, Smith would consider the moral
Faculty as identical with the power of Sympathy, which he treats as the
foundation of Benevolence. A man is a moral being in proportion as he
can enter into, and realize, the feelings, sentiments, and opinions of
Now, as morality would never have existed but for the necessity of
protecting one human being against another, the power of the mind that
adopts other people's interests and views must always be of vital
moment as a spring of moral conduct; and Adam Smith has done great
service in developing the workings of the sympathetic impulse.
He does not discuss Free-will. On the question of Disinterested
Conduct, he gives no clear opinion. While denying that our sympathetic
impulses are a refinement of self-love, he would seem to admit that
they bring their own pleasure with them; so that, after all, they do
not detract from our happiness. In other places, he recognizes
self-sacrifice, but gives no analysis of the motives that lead to it;
and seems to think, with many other moralists, that it requires a
compensation in the next world.
III.--His theory of the constituents of Happiness is simple, primitive,
and crude, but is given with earnest conviction. Ambition he laughs to
scorn. 'What, he asks, can be added to the happiness of the man who is
in health, out of debt, and has a clear conscience?' Again, 'the chief
part of happiness consists in the consciousness of being beloved,
hence, sudden changes of fortune seldom contribute to happiness.' But
what he dwells upon most persistently, as the prime condition of
happiness, is Contentment, and Tranquillity.
IV.--On the Moral Code, he has nothing peculiar. As to the means and
inducements to morality, he does not avail himself of the fertility of
his own principle of Sympathy. Appeals to sympathy, and the cultivation
of the power of entering into the feelings of others, could easily be
shown to play a high part in efficacious moral suasion.
V.--He affords little or no grounds for remarking on the connexion of
Morality with Politics. Our duties as citizens are a part of Morality,
and that is all.
VI.--He gives his views on the alliance of Ethics with Religion. He
does not admit that we should refer to the Religious sanction on all
occasions. He assumes a benevolent and all-wise Governor of the world,
who will ultimately redress all inequalities, and remedy all
outstanding injustice. What this Being approves, however, is to be
inferred solely from the principles of benevolence. Our regard for him
is to be shown, not by frivolous observances, sacrifices, ceremonies,
and vain supplications, but by just and beneficent actions. The author
studiously ignores a revelation, and constructs for himself a Natural
Religion, grounded on a benevolent and just administration of the
In Smith's Essay, the purely scientific enquiry is overlaid by
practical and hortatory dissertations, and by eloquent delineations of
character and of beau-ideals of virtuous conduct. His style being thus
pitched to the popular key, he never pushes home a metaphysical
analysis; so that even his favourite theme, Sympathy, is not
philosophically sifted to the bottom.
DAVID HARTLEY. [1705-1757.]
The 'Observations on Man' (1749) is the first systematic effort to
explain the phenomena of mind by the Law of Association. It contains
also a philosophical hypothesis, that mental states are produced by the
_vibration_ of infinitesimal particles of the nerves. This analogy,
borrowed from the undulations of the hypothetical substance aether, has
been censured as crude, and has been entirely superseded. But, although
an imperfect analogy, it nevertheless kept constantly before the mind
of Hartley the double aspect of all mental phenomena, thus preventing
erroneous explanations, and often suggesting correct ones. In this
respect, Aristotle and Hobbes are the only persons that can be named as
The ethical remarks contained in the 'Observations,' relate only to the
second head of summary, the Psychology of Ethics. We shall take, first,
the account of disinterestedness, and, next, of the moral sense.
1. _Disinterestedness_. Under the name _Sympathy_, Hartley includes
four kinds of feelings:--(1) Rejoicing at the happiness of
others--Sociality, Good-will, Generosity, Gratitude; (2) Grieving for
the misery of others--Compassion, Mercy; (3) Rejoicing at the misery of
others--Anger, Jealousy, Cruelty, Malice; and (4) Grieving for the
happiness of others--Emulation, Envy. All these feelings may be shown
to originate in association. We select as examples of Hartley's method,
Benevolence and Compassion. Benevolence is the pleasing affection that
prompts us to act for the benefit of others. It is not a primitive
feeling; but grows out of such circumstances as the following. Almost
all the pleasures, and few, in comparison, of the pains, of children,
are caused by others; who are thus, in the course of time, regarded
with pleasure, independently of their usefulness to us. Many of our
pleasures are enjoyed along with, and are enhanced by, the presence of
others. This tends to make us more sociable. Moreover, we are taught
and required to put on the appearance of good-will, and to do kindly
actions, and this may beget in us the proper feelings. Finally, we must
take into account the praise and rewards of benevolence, together with
the reciprocity of benefits that we may justly expect. All those
elements may be so mixed and blended as to produce a feeling that shall
teach us to do good to others without any expectation of reward, even
that most refined recompense--the pleasure arising from a beneficent
act. Thus Hartley conceives that he both proves the existence of
disinterested feeling, and explains the manner of its developement.
His account of _Compassion_ is similar. In the young, the signs and
appearances of distress excite a painful feeling, by recalling their
own experience of misery. In the old, the connexion between a feeling
and its adjuncts has been weakened by experience. Also, when children
are brought up together, they are often annoyed by the same things, and
this tends powerfully to create a fellow-feeling. Again, when their
parents are ill, they are taught to cultivate pity, and are also
subjected to unusual restraints. All those things conspire to make
children desire to remove the sufferings of others. Various
circumstances increase the feeling of pity, as when the sufferers are
beloved by us, or are morally good. It is confirmatory of this view,
that the most compassionate are those whose nerves are easily
irritable, or whose experience of affliction has been considerable.
2.--_The Moral Sense_. Hartley denies the existence of any moral
instinct, or any moral judgments, proceeding upon the eternal relations
of things. If there be such, let instances of them be produced prior to
the influence of associations. Still, our moral approbation or
disapprobation is disinterested, and has a factitious independence. (1)
Children are taught what is right and wrong, and thus the associations
connected with the idea of praise and blame are transferred to the
virtues inculcated and the vices condemned. (2) Many vices and virtues,
such as sensuality, intemperance, malice, and the opposites, produce
_immediate_ consequences of evil and good respectively. (3) The
benefits, immediate or (at least) obvious, flowing from the virtues of
others, kindle love towards them, and thereafter to the virtues they
exhibit. (4) Another consideration is the _loveliness of virtue_,
arising from the suitableness of the virtues to each other, and to the
beauty, order, and perfection of the world. (5) The hopes and fears
connected with a future life, strengthen the feelings connected with
virtue. (6) Meditation upon God and prayer have a like effect. 'All the
pleasures and pains of sensation, imagination, ambition (pride and
vanity), self-interest, sympathy, and theopathy (affection towards
God), as far as they are consistent with one another, with the frame of
our natures, and with the course of the world, beget in us a moral
sense, and lead us to the love and approbation of virtue, and to the
fear, hatred, and abhorrence of vice. This moral sense, therefore,
carries its own authority with it, inasmuch as it is the sum total of
all the rest, and the ultimate result from them; and employs the whole
force and authority of the whole nature of man against any particular
part of it that rebels against the determinations and commands of the
conscience or moral judgment.'
Hartley's analysis of the moral sense is a great advance upon Hobbes
and Mandeville, who make self-love the immediate constituent, instead
of a remote cause, of conscience. Our moral consciousness may thus be
treated as peculiar and distinguishable from other mental states, while
at the same time it is denied to be unique and irresolvable.
THOMAS REID. [1710-96.]
Reid's Ethical views are given in his Essays on the Active Powers of
ESSAY III., entitled THE PRINCIPLES OF ACTION, contains (Part III.) a
disquisition on the _Rational Principles of Action_ as opposed to what
Reid calls respectively _Mechanical_ Principles (Instinct, Habit), and
_Animal_ Principles (Appetites, Desires, Affections).
The Rational Principles of Action are Prudence, or regard to our own
good on the whole, and Duty, which, however, he does not define by the
antithetical circumstance--the 'good of others.' The notion of Duty, he
says, is too simple for logical definition, and can only be explained
by synonymes--_what we ought_ to do; what is fair and honest; what is
approvable; the professed rule of men's conduct; what all men praise;
the laudable in itself, though no man praise it.
Duty, he says, cannot be resolved into Interest. The language of
mankind makes the two distinct. Disregard of our interest is folly; of
honour, baseness. Honour is more than mere reputation, for it keeps us
right when we are not seen. This principle of Honour (so-called by men
of rank) is, in vulgar phrase, honesty, probity, virtue, conscience; in
philosophical language, the moral sense, the moral faculty, rectitude.
The principle is universal in men grown up to years of understanding.
Such a testimony as Hume's may be held decisive on the reality of moral
distinctions. The ancient world recognized it in the leading terms,
_honestum_ and _utile_, &c.
The abstract notion of Duty is a relation between the action and the
agent. It must be voluntary, and within the power of the agent. The
opinion (or intention) of the agent gives the act its moral quality.
As to the Sense of Duty, Reid pronounces at once, without hesitation,
and with very little examination, in favour of an original power or
faculty, in other words, a Moral Sense. Intellectual judgments are
judgments of the external senses; moral judgments result from an
internal moral sense. The external senses give us our intellectual
first principles; the moral sense our moral first principles. He is at
pains to exemplify the deductive process in morals. It is a question of
moral reasoning, Ought a man to have only one wife? The reasons are,
the greater good of the family, and of society in general; but no
reason can be given why we should prefer greater good; it is an
intuition of the moral sense.
He sums up the chapter thus:--'That, by an original power of the mind,
which we call _conscience_, or the _moral faculty_, we have the
conceptions of right and wrong in human conduct, of merit and demerit,
of duty and moral obligation, and our other moral conceptions; and
that, by the same faculty, we perceive some things in human conduct to
be right, and others to be wrong; that the first principles of morals
are the dictates of this faculty; and that we have the same reason to
rely upon those dictates, as upon the determinations of our senses, or
of our other natural faculties.' Hamilton remarks that this theory
virtually founds morality on intelligence.
Moral Approbation is the affection and esteem accompanying our judgment
of a right moral act. This is in all cases pleasurable, but most so,
when the act is our own. So, obversely, for Moral Disapprobation.
Regarding Conscience, Reid remarks, first, that like all other powers
it comes to maturity by insensible degrees, and may be a subject of
culture or education. He takes no note of the difficulty of determining
what is primitive and what is acquired. Secondly, Conscience is
peculiar to man; it is wanting in the brutes. Thirdly, it is evidently
intended to be the director of our conduct; and fourthly, it is an
Active power and an Intellectual power combined.
ESSAY IV. is OF THE LIBERTY OF MORAL AGENTS, which we pass by, having
noticed it elsewhere. ESSAY V. is OF MORALS.
Chapter I. professes to enumerate the axiomatic first principles of
Morals. Some of these relate (A) to virtue in general: as (1) There are
actions deserving of praise, and others deserving blame; (2) the
involuntary is not an object of praise or blame; (3) the unavoidable is
not an object of praise or blame; (4) omission may be culpable; (5) we
ought to inform ourselves as to duty; (6) we should fortify ourselves
against temptation. Other principles relate (B) to particular virtues:
(1) We should prefer a greater good to a less; (2) we should comply
with the intention of nature, apparent in our constitution; (3) no man
is born for himself alone; (4) we should judge according to the rule,
'Do to others,' &c.; (5) if we believe in God, we should venerate and
submit to him. A third class of principles (C) settle the preference
among opposing virtues. Thus, unmerited generosity should yield to
gratitude, and both to justice.
Chapter II. remarks upon the growth and peculiar advantages of Systems
of Morals. Chapter III. is on Systems of Natural Jurisprudence. The
four subsequent chapters of the Essay he states to have been composed
in answer to the Ethical doctrines of Hume.
Chapter IV. enquires whether a moral action must proceed from a moral
purpose in the agent. He decides in the affirmative, replying to
certain objections, and more especially to the allegation of Hume, that
justice is not a natural, but an artificial virtue. This last question
is pursued at great length in Chapter V., and the author takes occasion
to review the theory of Utility or Benevolence, set up by Hume as the
basis of morals. He gives Hume the credit of having made an important
step in advance of the Epicurean, or Selfish, system, by including the
good of others, as well as our own good, in moral acts. Still, he
demands why, if Utility and Virtue are identical, the same name should
not express both. It is true, that virtue is both agreeable and useful
in the highest degree; but that circumstance does not prevent it from
having a quality of its own, not arising from its being useful and
agreeable, but arising from its being virtue. The common good of
society, though a pleasing object to all men, hardly ever enters into
the thoughts of the great majority; and, if a regard to it were the
sole motive of justice, only a select number would ever be possessed of
the virtue. The notion of justice carries inseparably along with it a
notion of moral obligation; and no act can be called an act of justice
unless prompted by the motive of justice.
Then, again, good music and good cookery have the merit of utility, in
procuring what is agreeable both to ourselves and to society, but they
have never been denominated moral virtues; so that, if Hume's system be
true, they have been very unfairly treated.
Reid illustrates his positions against Hume to a length unnecessary to
follow. The objections are exclusively and effectively aimed at the two
unguarded points of the Utility system as propounded by Hume; namely,
first, the not recognizing moral rules as established and enforced
among men by the dictation of authority, which does not leave to
individuals the power of reference to ultimate ends; and, secondly, the
not distinguishing between obligatory, and non-obligatory, useful acts.
Reid continues the controversy, with reference to Justice, in Chapter
VI., on the Nature and Obligation of a Contract; and in Chapter VII.
maintains, in opposition to Hume, that Moral approbation implies a
Judgment of the intellect, and is not a mere feeling, as Hume seems to
think. He allows the propriety of the phrase 'Moral Sentiment,' because
'Sentiment' in English means judgment accompanied with feeling.
[Hamilton dissents, and thinks that sentiment means the higher
feelings.] He says, if a moral judgment be no real judgment, but only a
feeling, morals have no foundation but the arbitrary structure of the
mind; there are no immutable moral distinctions; and no evidence for
the moral character of the Deity.
We shall find the views of Reid substantially adopted, and a little
more closely and concisely argued, by Stewart.
DUGALD STEWART. [1753-1828.]
In his 'Essays on the Active Powers of the Mind,' Stewart introduces
the Moral Faculty in the same way as Reid. BOOK SECOND is entitled OUR
RATIONAL AND GOVERNING PRINCIPLES OF ACTION. Chapter I., on Prudence or
Self-love, is unimportant for our present purpose, consisting of some
desultory remarks on the connexion of happiness with steadiness of
purpose, and on the meanings of the words 'self-love' and
Chapter II. is on the Moral Faculty, and is intended to show that it is
an original principle of the mind. He first replies to the theory that
identifies Morality with Prudence, or Self-love. His first argument is
the existence in all languages of different words for _duty_ and for
_interest_. Secondly, The emotions arising from, the contemplation of
right and wrong are different from those produced by a regard to our
own happiness. Thirdly, although in most instances a sense of duty, and
an enlightened regard to our own happiness, would suggest to us the
same line of conduct, yet this truth is not obvious to mankind
generally, who are incapable of appreciating enlarged views and remote
consequences. He repeats the common remark, that we secure our
happiness best by not looking to it as tho one primary end. Fourthly,
moral judgments appear in children, long before they can form the
general notion of happiness. His examples of this position, however,
have exclusive reference to the sentiment of pity, which all moralists
regard as a primitive feeling, while few admit it to be the same as the
He then takes notice of the Association Theory of Hartley, Paley, and
others, which he admits to be a great refinement of the old selfish
system, and an answer to one of his arguments. He maintains,
nevertheless, that the others are untouched by it, and more especially
the third, referring to the amount of experience and reflection
necessary to discover the tendency of virtue to promote our happiness,
which is inconsistent with the early period when our moral judgments
appear. [It is singular that he should not have remarked that the moral
judgments of that early age, if we except what springs from the
impulses of pity, are wholly communicated by others.] He quotes Paley's
reasoning against the Moral Sense, and declares that he has as
completely mis-stated the issue, as if one were to contend that because
we are not born with the knowledge of light and colours, therefore the
sense of seeing is not an original part of the frame. [It would be easy
to retort that all that Paley's case demanded was the same power of
_discrimination_ in moral judgments, as the power of discriminating
light and dark belonging to our sense of sight.]
Chapter III. continues the subject, and examines objections. The first
objection taken up is that derived from the influence of education,
with which he combines the farther objection (of Locke and his
followers) arising from the diversity of men's moral judgments in
various nations. With regard to education, he contends that there are
limits to its influence, and that however it may modify, it cannot
create our judgments of right and wrong, any more than our notions of
beauty and deformity. As to the historical facts relating to the
diversity of moral judgments, he considers it necessary to make full
allowance for three circumstances--I.--Difference of situation with
regard to climate and civilization. II.--Diversity of speculative
opinions, arising from difference of intellectual capacity; and,
III.--The different moral import of the same action under different
systems of behaviour. On the first head he explains the indifference to
theft from there being little or no fixed property; he adduces the
variety of sentiments respecting Usury, as having reference, to
circumstances; and alludes to the differences of men's views as to
political assassination. On the second head he remarks, that men may
agree on _ends_, but may take different views as to means; they may
agree in recognizing obedience to the Deity, but differ in their
interpretations of his will. On the third point, as regards the
different moral import of the same action, he suggests that Locke's
instance of the killing of aged parents is merely the recognized mode
of filial affection; he also quotes the exceeding variety of ceremonial
Chapter IV. comments farther on the objections to the reality and
immutability of moral distinctions and to the universal diffusion of
the moral faculty. The reference is, in the first instance, to Locke,
and then to what he terms, after Adam Smith, the licentious
moralists--La Rochefoucauld and Mandeville. The replies to these
writers contain nothing special to Stewart.
Chapter V. is the Analysis of our Moral Perceptions and Emotions. This
is a somewhat singular phrase in an author recognizing a separate
inborn faculty of Right. His analysis consists in a separation of the
entire fact into three parts:--the perception of an action as right or
wrong; (2) an emotion of pleasure or pain, varying according to the
moral sensibility: (3) a perception of the merit or demerit of the
agent. The first is of course the main question; and the author gives a
long review of the history of Ethical doctrines from Hobbes downwards,
interspersing reflections and criticisms, all in favour of the
intuitive origin of the sense. As illustrative parallels, he adduces
Personal Identity, Causation, and Equality; all which he considers to
be judgments involving simple ideas, and traceable only to some
primitive power of the mind. He could as easily conceive a rational
being formed to believe the three angles of a triangle to be equal to
one right angle, as to believe that there would be no injustice in
depriving a man of the fruits of his labours.
On the second point--the pleasure and pain accompanying right and
wrong, he remarks on the one-sidedness of systems that treat the sense
of right and wrong as an intellectual judgment purely (Clarke, &c.), or
those that treat it as a feeling purely (Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and
Hume). His remarks on the sense of Merit and Demerit in the agent are
trivial or commonplace.
Chapter VI. is 'Of Moral Obligation.' It is needless to follow him on
this subject, as his views are substantially a repetition of Butler's
Supremacy of Conscience. At the same time, it may be doubted whether
Butler entirely and unequivocally detached this supremacy from the
command of the Deity, a point peculiarly insisted on by Stewart. His
words are these:--
'According to some systems, moral obligation is founded entirely on our
belief that virtue is enjoined by the command of God. But how; it may
be asked, does this belief impose an obligation? Only one of two
answers can be given. Either that there is a moral fitness that we
should conform our will to that of the Author and the Governor of the
universe; or that a rational self-love should induce us, from motives
of prudence, to study every means of rendering ourselves acceptable to
the Almighty Arbiter of happiness and misery. On the first supposition
We reason in a circle. We resolve our sense of moral obligation into
our sense of religion, and the sense of religion into that of moral
'The other system, which makes virtue a mere matter of prudence,
although not so obviously unsatisfactory, leads to consequences which
sufficiently invalidate every argument in its favour. Among others it
leads us to conclude, 1. That the disbelief of a future state absolves
from all moral obligation, excepting in so far as we find virtue to be
conducive to our present interest: 2. That a being independently and
completely happy cannot have any moral perceptions or any moral
'But farther, the notions of reward and punishment presuppose the
notions of right and wrong. They are sanctions of virtue, or additional
motives to the practice of it, but they suppose the existence of some
'In the last place, if moral obligation be constituted by a regard to
our situation in another life, how shall the existence of a future
state be proved, or even rendered probable by the light of nature? or
how shall we discover what conduct is acceptable to the Deity? The
truth is, that the strongest presumption for such a state is deduced
from our natural notions of right and wrong; of merit and demerit; and
from a comparison between, these and the general course of human
In a chapter (VII.) entitled 'certain principles co-operating with our
moral powers,' he discusses (1) a regard to character, (2) Sympathy,
(3) the Sense of the Ridiculous, (4) Taste. The important topic is the
second, Sympathy; which, psychologically, he would appear to regard as
determined by the pleasure that it gives. Under this head he introduces
a criticism of the Ethical theory of Adam Smith; and, adverting to the
inadequacy of the theory to distinguish the _right_ from the _actual_
judgments of mankind, he remarks on Smith's ingenious fiction 'of _an
abstract man_ within the breast;' and states that Smith laid much
greater stress on this fiction in the last edition of the Moral
Sentiments published before his death. It is not without reason that
Stewart warns against grounding theories on metaphorical expressions,
such as this of Smith, or the Platonic Commonwealth of the Soul.
In Book IV. of the Active Powers, Stewart discusses our Duties to
Men,--both our fellow-creatures and ourselves. Our duties to our
fellows are summed up in Benevolence, Justice, and Veracity. He devotes
a chapter to each. In Chapter I., on Benevolence, he re-opens the
consideration of the Ethical systems founded on Benevolence or Utility,
and argues against them; but merely repeats the common-place
objections--the incompetency of individuals to judge of remote
tendencies, the pretext that would be afforded for the worst conduct,
and each one's consciousness that a sense of _duty_ is different from
Chapter II. is on Justice; defined as the disposition that leads a man,
where his own interests or passions are concerned, to act according to
the judgment he would form of another man's duty in his situation. He
introduces a criticism on Adam Smith, and re-asserts the doctrine of an
innate faculty, explained as the _power of forming_ moral ideas, and
not as the innate possession of ideas. For the most part, his
exposition is didactic and desultory, with occasional discussions of a
critical and scientific nature; as, for example, some remarks on Hume's
theory that Justice is an artificial virtue, an account of the basis of
Jurisprudence, and a few observations on the Right of Property.
In Chapter III., on Veracity, he contends that considerations of
utility do not account for the whole force of our approbation of this
virtue. [So might any one say that considerations of what money can
purchase do not account for the whole strength of avarice].
In Chapter IV. he deals with Duties to ourselves, and occupies the
chapter with a dissertation on Happiness. He first gives an account of
the theories of the Stoics and the Epicureans, which connect themselves
most closely with the problem of Happiness; and next advances some
observations of his own on the subject.
His first remark is on the influence of the Temper, by which he means
the Resentful or Irascible passion, on Happiness. As against a
censorious disposition, he sets up the pleasure of the benevolent
sentiments; he enjoins candour with respect to the motives of others,
and a devoted attachment to truth and virtue for their intrinsic
excellence; and warns us, that the causes that alienate our affections
from our fellow-creatures, suggest gloomy and Hamlet-like conceptions
of the order of the universe.
He next adverts to the influence of the Imagination on Happiness. On
this, he has in view the addition made to our enjoyments or our
sufferings by the respective predominance of hope or of fear in the
mind. Allowing for constitutional bias, he recognizes, as the two great
sources of a desponding imagination, Superstition and Scepticism, whose
evils he descants upon at length. He also dwells on the influence of
casual associations on happiness, and commends this subject to the care
of educators; giving, as an example, the tendency of associations with
Greece and Rome to add to the courage of the classically educated
His third position is the Influence of our Opinions on Happiness. He
here quotes, from Ferguson, examples of opinions unfavourable to
Happiness; such as these: 'that happiness consists in having nothing to
do,' 'that anything is preferable to happiness,' 'that anything can
amuse us better than our duties.' He also puts forward as a happy
opinion the Stoical view, 'I am in the station that God has assigned
me.' [It must be confessed, however, that these prescriptions savour of
the Platonic device of inculcating opinions, not because of their
truth, but because of their supposed good consequences otherwise: a
proceeding scarcely compatible with an Ethical system that proclaims
veracity as superior to utility. On such a system, we are prohibited
from looking to anything in an opinion but its truth; we are to suffer
for truth, and not to cultivate opinions because of their happy
Stewart remarks finally on the influence of the Habits, on which he
notices the power of the mind to accommodate itself to circumstances,
and copies Paley's observations on the _setting_ of the habits.
In continuation of the subject of Happiness, he presents a
classification of our most important pleasures. We give the heads,
there being little to detain us in the author's brief illustration of
them. I.--The pleasures of Activity and Repose; II.--The pleasures of
Sense; III.--The pleasures of the Imagination; IV.--The pleasures of
the Understanding; and V.--The pleasures of the Heart, or of the
various benevolent affections. He would have added Taste, or Fine Art,
but this is confined to a select few.
In a concluding chapter (V.), he sums up the general result of the
Ethical enquiry, under the title, 'the Nature and Essence of Virtue.'
No observation of any novelty occurs in this chapter. Virtue is doing
our duty; the intentions of the agent are to be looked to; the
enlightened discharge of our duty often demands an exercise of the
Reason to adjudge between conflicting claims; there is a close
relationship, not defined, between Ethics and Politics.
The views of Stewart represent, in the chief points, although not in
all, the Ethical theory that has found the greatest number of
I.--The Standard is internal, or intuitive--the judgments of a Faculty,
called the Moral Faculty. He does not approve of the phrase 'Moral
Sense,' thinking the analogy of the senses incorrect.
II.--As regards Ethical Psychology, the first question is determined by
the remarks on the Standard.
On the second question, Free-will, Stewart maintains Liberty.
On the third question, he gives, like many others, an uncertain sound.
In his account of Pity, he recognizes three things, (1) a painful
feeling, (2) a selfish desire to remove the cause of the uneasiness,
(3) a disposition grounded on benevolent concern about the sufferer.
This is at best vague. Equally so is what he states respecting the
pleasures of sympathy and benevolence (Book II., Chapter VII.). There
is, he says, a pleasure attached to fellow-feeling, a disposition to
accommodate our minds to others, wherever there is a benevolent
affection; and, in all probability, the pleasure of sympathy is the
pleasure of loving and of being beloved. No definite proposition can be
gathered from such loose allegations.
III.--We have already abstracted his chapter on Happiness.
IV.--On the Moral Code, he has nothing peculiar.
V.--On the connexion with Religion, we have seen that he is strenuous
in his antagonism to the doctrine of the dependence of morality on the
will of God. But, like other moralists of the same class, he is careful
to add:--'Although religion can with no propriety be considered as the
sole foundation of morality, yet when we are convinced that God is
infinitely good, and that he is the friend and protector of virtue,
this belief affords the most powerful inducements to the practice of
every branch of our duty.' He has (Book III.) elaborately discussed the
principles of Natural Religion, but, like Adam Smith, makes no
reference to the Bible, or to Christianity. He is disposed to assume
the benevolence of the Deity, but considers that to affirm it
positively is to go beyond our depth.
THOMAS BROWN. [1778-1820.]
Brown's Ethical discussion commences in the 73rd of his _Lectures_. He
first criticises the multiplicity of expressions used in the statement
of the fundamental question of morals--'What is it that constitutes the
action _virtuous_?' 'What constitutes the _moral obligation_ to perform
certain actions?' 'What constitutes the _merit_ of the agent?'--These
have been considered questions essentially distinct, whereas they are
the very same question. There is at bottom but one emotion in the case,
the emotion of approbation, or of disapprobation, of an agent acting in
a certain way.
In answer then to the question as thus simplified, 'What is the ground
of moral approbation and disapprobation?' Brown answers--a simple
emotion of the mind, of which no farther explanation can be given than
that we are so constituted. Thus, without using the same term, he sides
with the doctrine of the Innate Moral Sense. He illustrates it by
another elementary fact of the mind, involved in the conception of
cause and effect on his theory of that relation--the belief that the
future will resemble the past. Excepting a teleogical reference to the
Supreme Benevolence of the Deity, he admits no farther search into the
nature of the moral sentiment.
He adduces, as another illustration, what he deems the kindred emotion
of Beauty. Our feeling of beauty is not the mere perception of forms
and colours, or the discovery of the uses of certain combinations of
forms; it is an emotion arising from these, indeed, bat distinct from
them. Our feeling of moral excellence, in like manner, is not the mere
perception of different actions, or the discovery of the physical good
that these may produce; it is an emotion _sui generis_, superadded to
He adverts, in a strain of eloquent indignation, to the objection
grounded on differences of men's moral judgment. There are
philosophers, he exclaims, 'that can turn away from the conspiring
chorus of the millions of mankind, in favour of the great truths of
morals, to seek in some savage island, a few indistinct murmurs that
may seem to be discordant with the total harmony of mankind.' He goes
on to remark, however, that in our zeal for the immutability of moral
distinctions, we may weaken the case by contending for too much; and
proposes to consider the species of accordance that may be safely
He begins by purging away the realistic notion of Virtue, considered as
a self-existing entity. He defines it--a term expressing the relation
of certain actions to certain emotions in the minds contemplating them;
its universality is merely co-extensive with these minds. He then
concedes that all mankind do not, at every moment, feel precisely the
same emotions in contemplating the same actions, and sets forth the
limitations as follows;--
First, In moments of violent passion, the mind is incapacitated for
perceiving moral differences; we must, in such cases appeal, as it
were, from Philip drunk to Philip sober.
Secondly, Still more important is the limitation arising from the
complexity of many actions. Where good and evil results are so blended
that we cannot easily assign the preponderance, different men may form
different conclusions. Partiality of views may arise from this cause,
not merely in individuals, but in whole nations. The legal permission
of theft in Sparta is a case in point. Theft, as theft, and without
relation to the political object of inuring a warlike people, would
have been condemned in Sparta, as well as with us. [The retort of Locke
is not out of place here; an innate moral sentiment that permits a
fundamental virtue to be set aside on the ground of mere state
convenience, is of very little value.] He then goes on to ask whether
men, in approving these exceptions to morality, approve them because
they are immoral? [The opponents of a moral sense do not contend for an
_immoral_ sense.] Suicide is not commended because it deprives society
of useful members, and gives sorrow to relations and friends; the
exposure of infants is not justified on the plea of adding to human
Again, the differences of cookery among nations are much wider than the
differences of moral sentiment; and yet no one denies a fundamental
susceptibility to sweet and bitter. It is not contended that we come
into the world with a knowledge of actions, but that we have certain
susceptibilities of emotion, in consequence of which, it is impossible
for us, in after life, unless from counteracting circumstances, to be
pleased with the contemplation of certain actions, and disgusted with
certain other actions. When the doctrine is thus stated, Paley's
objection, that we should also receive from nature the notions of the
actions themselves, falls to the ground. As well might we require an
instinctive notion of all possible numbers, to bear out our instinctive
sense of proportion.
A third limitation must be added, the influence of the principle of
Association. One way that this operates is to transfer, to a whole
class of actions, the feelings peculiar to certain marked individuals.
Thus, in a civilized country, where property is largely possessed, and
under complicated tenures, we become very sensitive to its violation,
and acquire a proportionably intense sentiment of Justice. Again,
association operates in modifying our approval and disapproval of
actions according to their attendant circumstances; as when we
extenuate misconduct in a beloved person.
The author contends that, notwithstanding these limitations, we still
leave unimpaired the approbation of unmixed good as good, and the
disapprobation of unmixed evil as evil. His further remarks, however,
are mainly eloquent declamation on the universality of moral
He proceeds to criticise the moral systems from Hobbes downwards. His
remarks (Lecture 76) on the province of Reason in Morality, with
reference to the systems of Clarke and Wollaston, contain the gist of
the matter well expressed.
He next considers the theory of Utility. That Utility bears a certain
relation to Virtue is unquestionable. Benevolence means good to others,
and virtue is of course made up, in great part, of this. But then, if
Utility is held to be the _measure_ of virtue, standing in exact
proportion to it, the proposition is very far from true; it is only a
small portion of virtuous actions wherein the measure holds.
He does not doubt that virtuous actions do all tend, in a greater or
less degree, to the advantage of the world. But he considers the
question to be, whether what we have _alone in view_, in approving
certain actions, be the amount of utility that they bring; whether we
have no other reason for commending a man than for praising a chest of
Consider this question first from the point of view of the agent. Does
the mother, in watching her sick infant, think of the good of mankind
at that moment? Is the pity called forth by misery a sentiment of the
general good? Look at it again from the point of view of the spectator.
Is his admiration of a steam-engine, and of an heroic human action, the
same sentiment? Why do we not worship the earth, the source of all our
utilities? The ancient worshippers of nature always gave it a soul in
the first instance.
When the supporter of Utility arbitrarily confines his principles to
the actions of living beings, he concedes the point in dispute; he
admits an approvableness peculiar to _living and voluntary agents_, a
capacity of exciting moral emotions not commensurate with any utility.
Hume says, that the sentiments of utility connected with human beings
are mixed with affection, esteem, and approbation, which do not attach
to the utility of inanimate things. Brown replies, that these are the
very sentiments to be accounted for, the moral part of the case.
But another contrast may be made; namely, between the utility of virtue
and the utility of talent or genius, which we view with very different
and unequal sentiments; the inventors of the printing press do not
rouse the same emotions as the charities of the Man of Ross.
Still, he contends, like the other supporters of innate moral
distinctions, for a pre-established harmony between the two attributes.
Utility and virtue are so intimately related, that there is perhaps no
action generally felt by us as virtuous, but what is generally
beneficial. But this is only discovered by reflecting men; it never
enters the mind of the unthinking multitude. Nay, more, it is only the
Divine Being that can fully master this relationship, or so prescribe
our duties that they shall ultimately coincide with the general
He allows that the immediate object of the _legislator_ is the general
good; but then his relationship is to the community as a whole, and not
to any particular individual.
He admits, farther, that the good of the world at large, if not the
_only_ moral object, _is_ a moral object, in common with the good of
parents, friends, and others related to us in private life. Farther, it
may be requisite for the moralist to correct our moral sentiments by
requiring greater attention to public, and less to private, good; but
this does not alter the nature of our moral feelings; it merely
presents new objects to our _moral discrimination_. It gives an
exercise to our reason in disentangling the complicated results of our
He makes it also an objection to Utility, that it does not explain
_why_ we feel approbation of the useful, and disapprobation of the
hurtful; forgetting that Benevolence is an admitted fact of our
constitution, and may fairly be assigned by the moralist as the source
of the moral sentiment.
His next remarks are on the Selfish Systems, his reply to which is the
assertion of disinterested Affections. He distinguishes two modes of
assigning self-interest as the sole motive of virtuous conduct. First,
it may be said that in every so-called virtuous action, we see some
good to self, near or remote. Secondly, it may be maintained that we
become at last disinterested by the associations of our own interest.
He calls in question this alleged process of association. Because a
man's own cane is interesting to him, it does not follow that every
other man's cane is interesting. [He here commits a mistake of fact;
other men's walking canes are interesting to the interested owner of a
cane. It may not follow that this interest is enough to determine
It will be inferred that Brown contends warmly for the existence of
Disinterested Affection, not merely as a present, but as a primitive,
fact of our constitution. He does not always keep this distinct from
the Moral Sentiment; he, in fact, mixes the two sentiments together in
his language, a thing almost inevitable, but yet inconsistent with the
advocacy of a distinct moral sentiment.
He includes among the Selfish Systems the Ethical Theory of Paley,
which he reprobates in both its leading points--everlasting happiness
as the motive, and the will of God as the rule. On the one point, this
theory is liable to all the objections against a purely selfish system;
and, on the other point, he makes the usual replies to the founding of
morality on the absolute will of the Deity.
Brown next criticises the system of Adam Smith. Admitting that we have
the sympathetic feeling that Smith proceeds upon, he questions its
adequacy to constitute the moral sentiment, on the ground that it is
not a perpetual accompaniment of our actions. There must be a certain
_vividness_ of feeling or of the display of feeling, or at least a
sufficient cause of vivid feeling, to call the sympathy into action. In
the numerous petty actions of life, there is an absence of any marked
But the essential error of Smith's system is, that it assumes the very
moral feelings that it is meant to explain. If there were no antecedent
moral feelings, sympathy could not afford them; it is only a mirror to
reflect what is already in existence. The feelings that we sympathize
with, are themselves moral feelings already; if it were not so, the
reflexion of them from a thousand breasts would not give them a moral
Brown thinks that Adam Smith was to some extent misled by an ambiguity
in the word sympathy; a word applied not merely to the participation of
other men's feelings, but to the further and distinct fact of the
_approbation_ of those feeling's.
Although siding in the main with Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, Brown
objects to their designation Moral Sense, as expressing the innate
power of moral approbation. If 'Sense' be interpreted merely as
susceptibility, he has nothing to say, but if it mean a primary medium
of perception, like the eye or the ear, he considers it a mistake. It
is, in his view, an _emotion_, like hope, jealousy, or resentment,
rising up on the presentation of a certain class of objects. He farther
objects to the phrase 'moral ideas,' also used by Hutcheson. The moral
emotions are more akin to love and hate, than to perception or
Brown gives an exposition of Practical Ethics under the usual heads:
Duties to Others, to God, to Ourselves. Duties to others he classifies
thus:--I.--_Negative_, or abstinence from injuring others in Person,
Property, Affections, Character or Reputation, Knowledge (veracity),
Virtue, and Tranquillity; II. _Positive_, or Benevolence; and
III.--Duties growing out of our _peculiar ties_--Affinity, Friendship,
Good offices received, Contract, and Citizenship.
To sum up
I.--As regards the Standard, Brown contends for an Innate Sentiment.
II.--The Faculty being thus determined, along with the Standard, we
have only to resume his views as to Disinterested action. For a full
account of these, we have to go beyond the strictly Ethical lectures,
to his analysis of the Emotions. Speaking of love, he says that it
includes a desire of doing good to the person loved; that it is
necessarily pleasurable because there must be some quality in the
object that gives pleasure; but it is not the mere pleasure of loving
that makes us love. The qualities are delightful to love, and yet
impossible not to love. He is more explicit when he comes to the
consideration of Pity, recognizing the existence of sympathy, not only
without liking for the object, but with positive dislike. In another
place, he remarks that we desire the happiness of our fellows simply as
human beings. He is opposed to the theory that would trace our
disinterested affections to a selfish origin. He makes some attempt to
refer to the laws of Association, the taking in of other men's
emotions, but thinks that there is a reflex process besides.
Although recognizing in a vague way the existence of genuine
disinterested impulses, he dilates eloquently, and often, on the
deliciousness of benevolence, and of all virtuous feelings and conduct.
WILLIAM PALEY. [1743-1805].
The First Book of Paley's 'Moral and Political Philosophy' is entitled
'PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS' it is in fact an unmethodical account of
various fundamental points of the subject. He begins by defining Moral
Philosophy as '_that science which teaches men their duty, and the
reasons of it_. The ordinary rules are defective and may mislead,
unless aided by a scientific investigation. These ordinary rules are
the Law of Honour, the Law of the Land, and the Scriptures.
He commences with the Law of Honour, which he views in its narrow
sense, as applied to people of rank and fashion. This is of course a
very limited code.
The Law of the Land also must omit many duties, properly compulsory, as
piety, benevolence, &c. It must also leave unpunished many vices, as
luxury, prodigality, partiality. It must confine itself to offences
The Scriptures lay down general rules, which have to be applied by the
exercise of reason and judgment. Moreover, they pre-suppose the
principles of natural justice, and supply new sanctions and greater
certainty. Accordingly, they do not dispense with a scientific view of
[The correct arrangement of the common rules would have been (1) the
Law of the Land, (2) the Laws of Society generally, and (3) the
Scriptures. The Law of Honour is merely one application of the
comprehensive agency of society in punishing men, by excommunication,
for what it prohibits.]
Then follows his famous chapter on the MORAL SENSE.
It is by way of giving an effective statement of the point in dispute
that he quotes the anecdote of Caius Toranius, as an extreme instance
of filial ingratitude, and supposes it to be put to the wild boy caught
in the woods of Hanover, with the view of ascertaining whether he would
feel the sentiment of disapprobation as we do. Those that affirm an
innate moral sense, must answer in the affirmative; those that deny it,
in the negative.
He then recites the arguments on both sides.
For the moral sense, it is contended, that we approve examples of
generosity, gratitude, fidelity, &c., on the instant, without
deliberation and without being conscious of any assignable reason; and
that this approbation is uniform and universal, the same sorts of
conduct being approved or disapproved in all ages and countries; which
circumstances point to the operation of an instinct, or a moral sense.
The answers to these allegations are--
First, The _Uniformity_ spoken of is not admitted as a fact. According
to the authentic accounts of historians and travellers, there is
scarcely a single vice that, in some age or country of the world, has
not been countenanced by public opinion. The murder of aged parents,
theft, suicide, promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, and unmentionable
crimes have been tolerated and approved. Among ourselves, Duelling is
viewed with the most opposite sentiments; forgiveness of injuries is
accounted by some people magnanimity, and by others meanness. In these,
and in many other instances, moral approbation follows the fashions and
institutions of the country, which institutions have themselves grown
out of local circumstances, the arbitrary authority of some chieftain,
or the caprice of the multitude.
Secondly, That, although, after allowing for these exceptions, it is
admitted that some sorts of actions are more approved than others, the
approbation being general, although not universal, yet this may be
accounted for, without supposing a moral sense, thus:--
Having experienced a particular line of conduct as beneficial to
ourselves, for example, telling the truth, a sentiment of approbation
grows up in consequence, and this sentiment thereupon arises whenever
the action is mentioned, and without our thinking of the consequences
in each instance. The process is illustrated by the love of money,
which is strongest in the old, who least of all think of applying it to
its uses. By such means, the approval of certain actions is commenced;
and being once commenced, the continuance of the feeling is accounted
for by authority, by imitation, and by all the usages of good society.
As soon as an entire society is possessed of an ethical view, the
initiation of the new members is sure and irresistible. The efficacy of
Imitation is shown in cases where there is no authority or express
training employed, as in the likings and dislikings, or tastes and
antipathies, in mere matters of indifference.
So much in reply to the alleged uniformity. Next come the positive
objections to a Moral Instinct.
In the first place, moral rules are not absolutely and universally
true; they bend to circumstances. Veracity, which is a natural duty, if
there be any such, is dispensed with in case of an enemy, a thief, or a
madman. The obligation of promises is released under certain
In the next place, the Instinct must bear with it the _idea_ of the
actions to be approved or disapproved; but we are not born with any
On the whole, either there exist no moral instincts, or they are
undistinguishable from prejudices and habits, and are not to be trusted
in moral reasonings. Aristotle held it as self-evident that barbarians
are meant to be slaves; so do our modern slave-traders. This instance
is one of many to show that the convenience of the parties has much to
do with the rise of a moral sentiment. And every system built upon
instincts is more likely to find excuses for existing opinions and
practices than to reform either.
Again: supposing these Instincts to exist, what is their authority or
power to punish? Is it the infliction of remorse? That may be borne
with for the pleasures and profits of wickedness. If they are to be
held as indications of the will of God, and therefore as presages of
his intentions, that result may be arrived at by a surer road.
The next preliminary topic is HUMAN HAPPINESS.
Happiness is defined as the excess of pleasure over pain. Pleasures are
to be held as differing only in _continuance_, and in _intensity_. A
computation made in respect of these two properties, confirmed by the
degrees of cheerfulness, tranquillity, and contentment observable among
men, is to decide all questions as to human happiness.
I.--What Human Happiness does not consist in.
Not in the pleasures of Sense, in whatever profusion or variety
enjoyed; in which are included sensual pleasures, active sports, and
1st, Because they last for a short time. [Surely they are good for the
time they do last.] 2ndly, By repetition, they lose their relish.
[Intermission and variety, however, are to be supposed.] 3rdly, The
eagerness for high and intense delights takes away the relish from all
Paley professes to have observed in the votaries of pleasure a restless
craving for variety, languor under enjoyment, and misery in the want of
it. After all, however, these pleasures have their value, and may be
too much despised as well as too much followed.
Next, happiness does not consist in the exemption from pain (?), from
labour, care, business, and outward evils; such exemption leaving one a
prey to morbid depression, anxiety, and hypochondria. Even a pain in
moderation may be a refreshment, from giving a stimulus to pursuit.
Nor does it consist in greatness, rank, or station. The reason here is
derived, as usual, from the doctrine of Relativity or Comparison,
pushed beyond all just limits. The illustration of the dependence of
the pleasure of superiority on comparison is in Paley's happiest style.
II.--What happiness does consist in. Allowing for the great
difficulties of this vital determination, he proposes to be governed by
a reference to the conditions of life where men appear most cheerful
It consists, 1st, In the exercise of the social affections. 2ndly, The
exercise of our faculties, either of body or of mind, in the pursuit of
some engaging end. [This includes the two items of occupation and
plot-interest.] 3rdly, Upon the prudent constitution of the habits; the
prudent constitution being chiefly in moderation and simplicity of
life, or in demanding few stimulants; and 4thly, In Health, whose
importance he values highly, but not too highly.