« PreviousContinue »
sess it in a higher degree, would answer all the ends of them. Thus there would be no need of the parental affection were all parents sufficiently acquainted with the reasons for taking upon them the guidance and support of those whom nature has placed under their care, and were they virtuous enough to be always determined by those reasons.'? How there could be any reasons, when the passions and appetites had been eliminated, or how such reasons could determine anybody's conduct, does not appear. Price's argument on this point resembles the assertion that, because the process of intellectual development might enable us at some future day to draw our supplies of heat from some central reservoir instead of maintaining a fire on every hearth, we should therefore be able, if we were clever enough, to do without heat altogether.
14. Not only are the affections superfluous, but any given action is deprived of its merit in so far as they are present. The intellectual determination is, he says, the only spring of action in a reasonable being, so far as he can be deemed morally good and worthy,' and the only principle from which all actions flow which engage our esteem of the agents.'? It follows that 'instinctive benevolence is no principle of virtue nor are any actions flowing merely from it virtuous. As far as this influences, so far something else than reason and goodness influence, and so much I think is to be subtracted from the moral worth of any action or character.'3 He argues, for example, that the tenderness of a mother is less valuable morally, as it flows more from instincts and is less attended with reflection on their reasonableness and fitness; and in the same way as virtue is only virtue when it is the product of an intellectual perception, so vice is only vicious so far as the agent knows his actions to be vicious. The fallacy here is not peculiar to Price or his school ; but it is useless to attempt to unravel any further the curious web of sophistry which thus passed for philosophical truth. We have dwelt sufficiently on the strange delusion which would represent the ideal man to be a mere calculating machine without passions or affections, employed in meditating on the eternal relations of things in a universe purified of all emotion. Infallibility and not impeccability constitutes the ultimate perfection, and 1 Price, p. 124.
3 Ib. p. 313.
• Ib. p. 326.
the perfect man would be lost, not in the love of God or of his race, but in the profoundest mathematical speculations.
Price, oddly enough, represents himself as a disciple of Butler, of whom he speaks with the highest reverence, and does not perceive that Butler is in closer agreement with his adversary Shaftesbury than with himself.
III. SHAFTESBURY AND MANDEVILLE. 15. It soon appeared that the moral Euclid which was the ideal of these philosophers would never get beyond the primary axioms which are equally true and trifling. Their metaphysical system decayed, leaving as its sole relic a magniloquent trick of language about the eternal and immutable nature of things. The phrase was familiar to the schools of Clarke and Tindal, but it gradually became too empty for use even in theological controversy. The serious discussion of ethical problems was continued by two schools, which correspond to the speculative tendencies embodied in Reid's Common Sense and Hume's scepticism. Both of them recognised tacitly or explicitly the impossibility of constructing a moral code from the ontological bases.
16. The common sense school was alarmed by the apparent consequences of this admission. The same logic justified the belief in God and the belief in virtue. If that logic were admitted to be insecure, might not God and virtue disappear from the universe ? The common-sense philosophers held, as we have seen, that the vital principles might be preserved, though their truth could not be exhibited as a necessary conclusion of the pure reason. A principle which cannot be demonstrated, and which is yet held to possess independent authority, must be recognised by a kind of intellectual instinct. In ethical discussions, the faculty in which this mysterious power resided was generally described as the moral sense or the conscience. To the ontologist such a theory appeared to be a mere empiricism, for it abandoned the claim of tracing back moral dogmas to an ultimate truth. The empiricist, on the other hand, was offended by the recognition of certain dogmas as possessing an authority requiring no confirmation from experience. The radical weakness, indeed, of a philosophy which tries to save the superstructure whilst abandoning the foundation, which multiplies first principles at will, because it cannot prove them, was sufficiently proved by the barrenness of Reid's philosophy. In ethical questions the same weakness appears in another form. The intellectual cowardice which refuses to ask fundamental questions is naturally connected with the moral cowardice which refuses to look facts in the face. In the moralists whom we are about to consider there is generally a provoking tendency to a flimsy optimism. They inherit the pantheistic sentiment that whatever is, is right, though they do not adopt the pantheistic logic; and as nature is still their God, they overlook the dark side of nature. The instinct which believes in God and virtue is very apt to disbelieve in the existence of natural evil and moral wickedness. There was, as we shall see, one great exception in Butler, who owes much of his power to his peculiar position in this respect. His conscience gives an account of the world very unlike that of his complacent brother philosophers. The want of thoroughness common to most of the school, the desire to obtain a comfortable and symmetrical theory at the expense of facts, did not prevent them from discharging a most important function. When the world is without a genuine philosophy, it becomes extremely desirable to assert the existence and value of those impulses which (whatever their nature) we call conscience. The sceptical school was sapping the very foundations of the system with which, rightly or wrongly, the whole moral doctrine had been connected. In such a case, a blind and inexplicable instinct was at least better than none. The commonsense school might be wrong in asserting that the conscience was essentially a primitive and inexplicable faculty. They might, nevertheless, be right in saying that it existed, and that neither they nor their opponents could disprove its reality nor explain its origin. In the sphere of practice they maintained an ideal of virtuous action which was seriously threatened ; in the sphere of speculation they at least kept before the world an important problem-what, namely, is the origin of the virtuous impulses?
17. Round this point raged the most active controversies of the period which we have to consider. Is conscience a reality or a sham ? an ultimate or a derivative faculty? The sceptics and the intuitionalists discussed the question from various points of view. The typical representatives of the two schools of thought in the early part of the century were Shaftesbury and Mandeville, both of them writers of remarkable ability and of great influence upon their contemporaries and successors. I will begin by considering their attitude and relation.
18. The school of Shaftesbury retained the general doctrine of a divine guidance, but generally denied or relegated to the background the doctrine of supernatural sanctions. Anxious to retain a theological conception of the universe, they made a God out of Nature-a God immanent in the world, not acting upon it from without. Good impulses were at once divine and natural. The old God dwelt in a supersensual heaven, and our corrupt world could only reflect scattered lights from its benign Creator. Nature was revealed in the visible universe, and, therefore, the universe was everywhere pervaded by profound harmonies fitted to excite our enthusiastic veneration. It was the new temple, sanctified everywhere by the omnipresent Deity. Our aspirations were gratified within the visible order, instead of seeking for gratification elsewhere. Heaven and hell were no longer required to balance the corrupt desires of man, for man's loftiest impulses were natural. It was unnecessary as in orthodox divinity to call a new world into existence to redress the balance of the old.
19. The school, of which I have called Mandeville the representative, generally retained, by an equally natural process, the doctrine of supernatural sanctions, but rejected the doctrine of the divine guidance. They cared comparatively little for a comprehensive theory of the universe, and fixed their eyes upon the facts immediately around them. A strong grasp of realities distinguished them, as a love of wider generalisations distinguished their adversaries. They recognised the important truth involved in the theological doctrine of human corruption. Man was, in fact, an animal moved by base and ferocious passions. As a matter of observation, religion was the best restraint upon his impulses, and the most tangible part of religion was the belief in future rewards and punishments. They had no desire, therefore, to abolish damnation, VOL. II.
unless, with Mandeville, they accepted the doctrine that all virtue was an empty sham. But they refused to see any signs of supernatural agency in the world around them. In. specting every theory, to use an illustration of Tucker's, with the microscope of science, they thought that human passions, bad as they might generally be, quite accounted for all the phenomena around them. Theology might still be true as regarded the dim distance beyond their ken, but theology was not applicable to ordinary life. Just as in the deist controversy, it was assumed that God might have revealed himself to the ancient Jews, but never appeared to modern Englishmen, so in ethical controversy, it was thought that God was not a present guide, but it might very well be proved that he would reward or punish us elsewhere. Thus, with thinkers of this class, the divine glory retired from the present and the tangible world, to concentrate itself in a distant past and future ; whilst, with their opponents, that glory grew dim and indefinite indeed, but still continued to irradiate the present world.
These two currents of speculation run side by side throughout the century; the utilitarian gradually becoming the most conspicuous, as being most in harmony with the tendencies of the age and of English thought. I shall trace them separately, after describing Shaftesbury and Mandeville as their typical representatives.
20. The third Lord Shaftesbury is one of the writers whose reputation is scarcely commensurate with the influence which he once exerted. His teaching is to be traced through much of our literature, though often curiously modified by the medium through which it has passed. He speaks to us in Pope's poetry, and in Butler's theology. All the ethical writers are related to him, more or less directly, by sympathy or opposition. During his life, he and his friend Lord Molesworth were the chief protectors of Toland; and Tindal and Bolingbroke took many hints from his pages. The power is perhaps due less to his literary faculty-for, in spite of his merits, he is a wearisome and perplexed writer-than to the peculiar position which he occupied in speculation, and which at once separates him from his contemporaries, and enabled him to be a valuable critic and stimulator of thought.
21. A grandson of Dryden's Achitophel, and brought up