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of Nature Delineated.' Both of these books have a reference to the deist controversy, with which the first is principally occupied. The theory which they expound was accepted by the whole school of which Clarke was the most conspicuous leader. We have already been led to notice it in the history of the deist controversy, and it is simply the application to ethical speculations of the metaphysical system which dates from Descartes. A brief examination will sufficiently indicate the main cause of the rapid decay of a doctrine which had so little influence upon the main problems of human life.
4. The starting-point is the identification of God with nature. The Almighty is not with these philosophers the ruler of a universe, in some sort independent of him, or external to him, but the first cause of all things. He moves the stars and directs the course of a bubble. The moral as well as the material universe is absolutely dependent on his laws. Men like Hobbes and Spinoza, who dared to push their logic to its legitimate consequences, saw that the most trifling and transitory phenomenon must be ascribed to the action of an omnipotent and omniscient Creator as distinctly as those which, in our language, are most important and lasting. It matters not how many links intervene between the earthly end of the chain perceptible to our senses and the heavenly end which is in the immediate grasp of the Creator. He who, with absolutely infallible knowledge, has present to his mind the remotest ramifications of the infinite series of causes and effects, guides the raindrop, or moves the hand of the murderer as distinctly as if he directly intervened at the moment. If, then, law' means the same thing when we speak of moral and natural laws, it would seem that morality is annihilated by this conception. “Fish,' says Spinoza, 'are determined by nature to swim ; and big fish to eat little fish, and therefore it is by the highest natural right that fish possess the water, and that big fish eat little fish.'' Whatever is, it would seem, on this showing, is in the strictest sense of the word right. A murderer obeys a natural law' as much as a saint; a Borgia and a Catiline' are as much the products of nature as a shark or a St. Paul. If, in short, the moral law expresses simply the
· Spinoza, “Tract. Theologico-Politicus,' p. 252.
will of the legislator, and the legislator is nature, everything which happens is, by the very definition, in conformity with the law. To break the law is not wrong, but impossible.
5. Spinoza's method of escaping the difficulty need not be considered, for though his name is often quoted by the English writers of the time, neither opponents nor followers appreciated his position. Hobbes's writings, on the contrary, were, as I have said, the most potent stimulant to English thought in the last half of the seventeenth, and even during the first half of the eighteenth, century in England. He had, indeed, fewer disciples than antagonists; but the writer who provokes a reaction does as much in generating ideas as the writer who propagates his own ideas. Hobbes's mode of defining morality had, at least, the merit of simplicity. He audaciously identified the moral with the positive law. That is wrong, he said, which the sovereign forbids; that is right which he allows. The answer-paradoxical enough—is clear and coherent. It does not, it should be noticed, render morality arbitrary in the sense of being essentially a matter of chance ; for in Hobbes's view there is no chance. The action of the sovereign is as much the result of inexorable laws as every other phenomenon. But it does imply that the moral standard varies according to time and place ; for that which is wrong in Turkey may be right in England. How far Hobbes shrank from the full application of his own principles is a question which need not here be discussed. The doctrine thus set forth is that which later English moralists sought to impugn, and of which they considered Hobbes to be the chief representative.
6. The particular form of the theory which commended itself to Clarke-for the skill of metaphysicians has woven doctrines substantially identical into various forms at different periods of speculation-follows from the fundamental assumptions of the metaphysical school, from which he was an offshoot. The mathemathical universe in which he believed consisted of two elements; on one side was matter with its primary qualities, or, in other words, the objects of sense stripped of all qualities except those of which the mathematician takes cognisance; and, on the other, the hierarchy of spirits from the divine to the human. All other qualities were
merely the modifications raised in the spirit in consequence of the mysterious action and reaction between itself and matter. The reason was the faculty by which the invariable relations between these ultimate facts were perceived ; whilst the senses presented us with a shifting phantasmagoria of unrealities. To prove, then, that morality was not arbitrary and variable seemed to him to be the same thing as proving that it belonged to those eternal and immutable relations, and not to the sphere of observation, where the accidental and the essential were indistinguishably blended. The foundation of his argument for revealed religion was a proof that there was an unalterable natural law, to which revelation provided a necessary supplement. Clarke attacks Hobbes as asserting that there is no such real difference originally, necessarily, and absolutely in the nature of things; but that all obligation to God arises merely from his absolutely irresistible power; and all duty towards men merely from positive compact.' In opposition to this view, some of the consequences of which he exposes with great clearness, he sets up his system of mathematical morality. He that wilfully refuses to honour and obey God is 'really guilty of an equal absurdity and inconsistency in practice as he that in speculation denies the effect to owe anything to its cause, or the whole to be bigger than its part. He that refuses to deal with all men equitably makes the same mistake as 'he that in another case should affirm one number or quantity to be equal to another, and yet that other, at the same time, not to be equal to the first.'? The three great primary duties, to God, to each other, and to ourselves, may be deduced in the same way as the propositions of Euclid. “There is no congruity or proportion, in the uniform disposition and correspondent order of any bodies or magnitudes, no fitness and agreement in the application of similar and equal geometrical figures one to another,'' so plain as the fitness of God's receiving honour from his creatures. To deny that I should do for another man what he in the like case should do for me, and to deny it, either in word or action' (a phrase which suggests the singular crotchet soon afterwards expounded by Wollaston), · Clarke's Works, ii. 609.
• Ib. p. 618. ? Ih. p. 613.
• Ib. p. 619.
is as if a man should contend that, though two and three are equal to five, yet five are not equal to two and three. It is characteristic that Clarke does not perceive that this interpretation of the common precept reduces it to a truism. The essence of the rule would be, according to him, that if the circumstances are the same, the same law will give the same results ; and it would be as compatible, for example, with a law of mutual hatred as of mutual love. In fact, he argues that the identity of reason is implied in a more special assertion; and then assumes that the universal postulate is the vital principle of the assertion. Finally, our duty to ourselves is deduced from our duty to God, and, therefore, rests upon the same intuitions.
7. An obvious difficulty underlies all reasoning of this class, even in its most refined shape. The doctrine might, on the general assumptions of Clarke's philosophy, be applicable to the ‘Laws of Nature,' but is scarcely to be made applicable to the moral law. Every science is potentially deducible from a small number of primary truths; to which Clarke would have added that those truths were intuitively apprehended, and that their denial involved a contradiction in terms. Thus, for example, a being of sufficient knowledge might construct a complete theory of human nature, of which every proposition would be either self-evident or rigorously deducible from self-evident axioms. Such propositions would take the form of laws in the scientific, not in the moral, sense; the copula would be 'is,' not'ought;' the general formula would be 'all men do so and so,' not thou shalt do so and so.' Clarke would have denied the possibility of such a science, because he disjointed the system which would otherwise have conducted him to Spinozism by the unphilosophical hypothesis of free-will. The language, however, which he uses about the moral law is, in reality, applicable to the scientific law alone. It might be said with plausibility (we need not ask whether it could be said with accuracy) that the proposition 'all men are mortal’ is capable of being deductively proved by inference from some self-evident axioms. A denial of it would, therefore, involve a contradiction. But the proposition ‘thou shalt not kill' is a threat, not a statement of a truth ; and Clarke's attempt to bring it under the same category involves a confusion fatal to his whole theory. It is, in fact, a confusion between the art and the science of human conduct.
8. If, to evade this difficulty, we throw the statement into a different form, we obtain, indeed, a body of doctrines to which Clarke's arguments may be applicable; but then we introduce precisely the considerations which he endeavoured to exclude. It may, for example, be a demonstrable proposition that all murderers will be damned, or that they will all be hateful, or that their conduct diminishes the sum of general happiness. Such propositions are the groundwork of ethical science, if not the science itself. But, if Clarke's doctrine were stretched so as to include them, it would be merged in a system of theological, or intuitional, or utilitarian morality. Any such formula includes of necessity some references to the feelings with which we regard actions, or to their consequences to mankind. It forms part of the science of human nature, and it was Clarke's ambition, as it has substantially been the ambition of other metaphysicians, to expound a theory of human conduct which should be entirely independent of any observation of human nature. Morality must not be subjective.' That means, it must be independent of the idiosyncrasies of individuals. Clarke translates this into the statement: Morality must be independent of the character of the race. He wished to elevate morality into the sphere of pure mathematics, or, what he held to be equivalent, of absolute truth, where the promptings of passion and the lessons of experience should be entirely excluded. He tried to argue from our a priori knowledge of the essence of the divine and human natures, and not from the a posteriori experience of their relations. Once more, he was transporting a method, applicable in the theological stage of thought, into a metaphysical region where it collapsed from want of the necessary supports. Theologians who-it matters not how-.. were capable of defining the character of God could deduce a set of rules independent of, or even contradictory to, experience. Given a just or vindictive and omnipotent ruler, it was easy to infer what should be the conduct of his creatures. But when for Jehovah or the Christian Trinity was substituted the colourless conception of a supreme nature, the a priori method could give no results except certain neutral rules