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ENGLISH THOUGHT

IN THE

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.

CHAPTER IX.

MORAL PHILOSOPHY.

1. INTRODUCTORY.

1. THE different religions of the world tell us, each in its own fashion, what is the plan and meaning of this universe. Thence true believers may infer what is the best method of employing our brief existence within it. We ought to be good, say all moralists, and the questions remain what is meant by 'ought' and by 'goodness, and what are the motives which induce us to be good. Theology, so long as it was a vital belief in the world, and preserved a sufficient infusion of the anthropomorphic element, afforded a complete and satisfactory answer to these questions. Morality was of necessity its handmaid. Believe in an active ruler of the universe, who reveals his will to men, who distributes rewards and punishments to the good and the evil, and we have a plain answer to most of the problems of morality. God's will, so far as known to us, must determine what is good. We are obliged to be good, because, whether from love or from fear, man must obey his Creator and preserver. Nor does the enquiry into the nature of our moral sentiments naturally suggest itself. Men who live under a visible monarch do not speculate as to the origin of the sentiment which makes them obey his laws.

Their loyalty and the fear of his power are sufficient reasons; and it would never strike them that any

VOL. II.

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special faculty was needed to produce dread of his vengeance or an enthusiastic reverence for his goodness. So long, therefore, as the older theological conception of the universe is unhesitatingly accepted, the only moral enquiry which is likely to flourish is casuistry, or the discussion as to the details of that legal code whose origin and sanction are abundantly clear.

2. But wider speculations as to morality inevitably occur as soon as the vision of God becomes faint; when the Almighty retires behind second causes, instead of being felt as an immediate presence, and his existence becomes the subject of logical proof, or belief is refined into sentiment. If the old system of government disappears, what is to take its place? The prohibition of murder is no longer uttered by a visible Deity from Mount Sinai. Why, then, should we not commit murder? and how do we know that it is wrong? Hell no longer yawns before us; what punishment has the murderer to dread? The sentiment of disapproval survives the clearly divine character of the prohibition. What, then, is its meaning and origin? Attention had been called to these most important questions by Hobbes, the keenest and most audacious of all contemporary speculators. Throughout the seventeenth and the first years of the eighteenth century he represented the evil principle to moralists as well as to theologians. The two classes are indeed one. The whole theology of the eighteenth century has a specially moral turn. Religion was regarded far less as providing expression for our deepest emotions, or as a body of old tradition invested with the most touching poetical associations, than as a practical rule of life. This preoccupation with the direct moral bearing of theology gives a prosaic turn to the writing of the day ; but, in fact, this aspect of the great problem was of vital importance. How could order be preserved when the old sanctions were decaying? Can a society of atheists be maintained ? was a question put by Bayle, and taken up by Shaftesbury. It was nothing more than an epigrammatic form of a question, to which it was of the deepest importance to find an answer, and which was rightly discussed with an eagerness tending rather to cast into the shade the more poetical aspects of religion. How, to put the question less bluntly, should morality survive theology ? Various answers were given in England by various schools of thought-by Clarke, Wollaston, and Price, by Shaftesbury, Butler, and Hutcheson, by Hartley and Adam Smith, by Locke, Hume, Tucker, Paley, and Bentham. What was the nature of the solutions suggested ? and what relation do the various theories bear to each other?

II. THE INTELLECTUAL SCHOOL.

3. That which comes first in the order of thought is represented by the writers generally known as the intellectual school of moralists. Its leading representatives are Clarke, Wollaston, and Price. The first two names have already encountered us in the deist controversy. Price belonged to a later generation. He was born in 1723, the year preceding Wollaston's death, and six years before the death of Clarke. He was more conspicuous in political than moral or theological controversies, and is remembered chiefly as the inventor of the younger Pitt's sinking fund, and as affording the occasion of one of Burke's most brilliant invectives against revolutionary principles. His Review of the principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals' was first published in 1758 before he had taken part in political discussions and become the friend of Priestley and Shelburne. His writings are of interest as illustrating the connection, so often noticed by Burke, between revolutionary theories in politics and the a priori doctrines of metaphysicians. The advocate of the most mathematical view of morality naturally became the advocate of the indefeasible rights of man in politics. The absolute spirit is the same in both cases.

His philosophical speculations are curious, though they hardly possess high intrinsic merit. His book on morality is the fullest exposition of the theory which it advocates ; but the theory was already antiquated ; and Price, though he makes a great parade of logical systematisation, is a very indistinct writer. It is often difficult to discover his precise drift, and the discovery does not always reward the labour which it exacts. Clarke's theory is contained in his Sermons on Naturaland Revealed Religion,'and Wollaston's in his ‘Religion

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