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when he declared that morality was capable of demonstration. This law may be stated indeed as a 'law of nature'in the ordinary physical sense, and as such is capable of support by empirical evidence, and if proved is as necessary as any other empirical law; but it is evident that in this sense it cannot be a law of morals in Clarke's own sense, and that its necessity is not what he means by necessity. His adoption of it however is quite consistent with the utilitarian tendency of the intellectual school which is so conspicuous in Wollaston (SS 1066–7). Gay, who was by no means a supporter of 'absolute fitnesses, put forward the relations of things as the criterion of happiness in very much the way in which Clarke had attempted to use them.
II. Virtue declared to be real and natural.'
I have already several times spoken of the intellectual' and sentimental' schools as representing two principal lines of thought in this period, but have not thought it necessary to define or even describe them. They are primarily distinguished by their adoption of reason and feeling respectively as the faculty which perceives moral distinctions, a faculty declared in each case to be peculiar and not identifiable with ordinary reason or ordinary feeling. When they draw inferences from the faculty to the criterion, the subject matter, the motive and the obligation of morality, the issues become confused, and there is much ground for Bentham's assertion that both schools, as soon as they come to particulars, are equally utilitarian. The fact is that, whatever the particular form or topic of discussion, they have one common object
- to show that virtue is real and is worth pursuing in itself; that virtue and the motive to it are irreducible to a merely animal experience of pleasure and pain. The dispute
between them is as to the most effective way of attaining this object, and it may fairly be said that they are much stronger in their criticisms of each other than in their own solutions of the problem. They see clearly enough the difficulty of maintaining the specific character of morality; the tendency of the moral to dissipate itself into the nonmoral, whether on the side of experience or on the side of mathematical abstract truth opposite to experience. The fact is that they both start from an uncritical view of experience itself, from the abstract view of their common opponents the sensationalists, and so whether they appeal to or revolt from experience they rest their theories on an equally insecure foundation. Their dispute however is on its own plane very instructive, and in the following pages some of its principal turns and issues are followed out.
That virtue is ' natural' and 'according to nature' is indeed an article of faith with both schools, though they are not unaware of that ambiguity of the term on which Hume remarks (Treatise, p. 474). The sense of nature' adopted by Hobbes is of course rejected by both, and both are inclined to minimize rather unduly the artificial element in morality. For the intellectual school virtue is natural primarily because it conforms to the 'intelligible nature and essence of things,' or the relations arising from them (S$ 825, 491, 550, 1053), secondarily because it recognizes the actual nature, i. e. the constitution of man (S$ 550, 1007). For the sentimental school, on the other hand, virtue is natural because it conforms to and is the normal expression of uncorrupted human nature. When it is asked however what is human nature, some difference of opinion arises : for Shaftesbury and Hutcheson the kindly or benevolent affections regulated by regard to the whole system of rationals' made up the
real nature of man, though they sometimes put in a saving word for other affections: for Butler conscience speaks with the voice of the whole man, and the real nature of man is that constitution (not entirely benevolent) which conscience (and cool self-love) approves of ($$_216-17): for Hume that conduct is natural which we ordinarily expect, and for Adam Smith that conduct with which the impartial spectator is able to sympathize. There is a vagueness in these conceptions which renders welcome the further definition contributed by Kames: the common and proper nature of man is that constitution which best enables the species to maintain itself in relation to the external circumstances, now called the environment, in which it is placed ( 911).
12. Moral laws and natural relations. The attempt of one section at least of the intellectual school to deduce moral laws from the 'nature of things' requires closer scrutiny. Everything is said to have a permanent nature, essence, or character which determines its relations to other things. Since the essences are eternal and immutable, so also are the relations. A thing which is once equal to another is always so, as long as they both remain the same, and the propositions which arise from or are made about their relations are eternally and immutably true. This reminds us of the 'permanent system of relations' on which the modern idealist dwells in his theory of knowledge, but the moralists of our period were bolder in its use than we should be. Most of the instances of their natural relations and truths are taken from mathematics, and it is asserted that to deny a moral proposition, such as 'gratitude is due to benefactors,' is as formally absurd as to deny the
· Herbert Spencer, Data of Ethics, c. 6.
mathematical truth that 'two straight lines cannot enclose a space,' or that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other' (S$ 490-91). Conduct suitable to a certain person in certain circumstances might by a stretch of language be described as proportionate to the person's relations, i.e. his character and circumstances (§ 483), and advantage is taken of the word proportion to suggest the identity of moral and mathematical relations.
The same jugglery is practised with equity and equality, and it is declared that the reason which obliges every man in practice so to deal always with another as he would ... expect that others should ... deal with him, is the very same as that which forces him in speculation to affirm, that if one line or number be equal to another, that other is reciprocally equal to it' ($ 500). It is candidly admitted (§ 491) that it is not in our power to withhold assent from a plain speculative truth, whereas we can refuse to act up to a plain moral truth, but this admission is not followed up to its proper conclusion that 'practical truth' is a metaphorical phrase and that the practical absurdity' of refusing to perform the act indicated cannot be a 'formal absurdity.'
It is of course possible to contend that immoral action is absurd in another sense-i. e. of defeating its own end, but this is material absurdity, like that of refusing to act on a known physical law. This idea of material absurdity as a test of vice, has a long and not undistinguished history. It figures in Hobbes as an argument for the obligation of justice (injustice being as it a man should deny in the end what he had declared in the beginning) ($ 903), and it figures in Kant', and again in Prof. Green, who ultimately condemns the hedonist ás seeking satisfaction in pursuits which cannot
1 Metaphysic of Morals, Transl. Abbott, § 2, p. 39, ed. 3.
afford it?. In the writers of the intellectual school it appears as the absurdity of treating things as other than they are—the absurdity of treating men as brutes and brutes as stones-of ignoring the eternal natures of things, but it soon appears that it is not the absurdity which makes such action wrong, but the self-will (S$ 491, 525, 1032, 1053) and wantonness and waste of opportunity which it implies, which are not necessarily absurd at all. This line of argument moreover leads easily into utilitarianism, for to treat men as they are is to treat them primarily as capable of and desiring happiness (S$ 1066-67, 665,
13. Morality and truth.' In the same way as the 'absurdity’relied on by the intellectualists turns out to be self-will, so the violation of truth, of which Wollaston makes so much, turns out to be 'untruthfulness, which can certainly be practised without absurdity (though it cannot be imagined a universal practice without some absurdity; lying would cease to be profitable to the liar if no one spoke the truth or expected others to speak the truth). His system, as Balguy points out ($ 550), rests on a confusion between 'objective and subjective truth,' and as Price argues ($ 693), it is hard to regard the evil of cruelty or ingratitude as being the same as that of telling a lie. The attempt, however, made by Balguy and Price themselves to exhibit virtue as
truth,' breaks down almost as easily. Truth is of propositions, and is about things. The object of science is to attain truth about things, but it is not the object of morals to attain truth about actions. You can make as many true propositions about a bad action as about a good one, as Hutcheson points out (S$ 448, 454), and moral laws are a good deal more than such truths, at all events to anybody who is not a philosopher.
· Prolegomena, $ $ 176–77.