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Lectures on the history of moral philosophy online

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out of tune; but it is not a property of them all that
they are equally out. Your comparison does not help
you. All kinds of avarice we may say are equally
avarice; yes; but they are not all equally avaricious.

" But again we have another similitude of a thing
which is not similar. (Ecoe aliud simile dissimile.)

"The helmsman, they say, equally errs if he runs
aground his ship, laden with straw or laden with gold;
in like manner he sins equally, who beats his slave
boy and who beats his father. Here they do not see
that whether the ship is laden with straw or with gold
makes no difference in the goodness or badness of the
steering : but every man may and ought to know what
is the difference of the condition of a parent and of a
slave. In steering, it makes no difference ; in duty it
makes all the difference, under which of these circum-
stances the transgression takes place. And even in
steering, if the ship is run aground through careless-
ness the sin is greater if the lading be gold than if
it be straw. For in every art we require that quality
which is called common prudence; and this, all who
engage in any work of skill ought to have. So that
this argument again fails to prove all sins to be equal."
One of the standard arguments of the Stoics to
prove that virtue is the only good, was this : " Bonum
omne laudabile, laudabile autem omne honestum; igi-
tur omne bonum honestum." This argument Cicero


disposes of very summaiily — "O plnmbeiun pugionem !
— ^What a dagger of lead is your boasted weapon.
Who will grant your first ? Who allows that every-
thing good is worthy of praise ? All our philosophers
say that health, wealth, strength, fame and the like
are good things. But they are not worthy of praise.
' — Such worthiness belongs to virtue alone."

On these and the like grounds Cicero blames
Zeno for needlessly setting up a new sect; ascribes
his doing so to vanity and restlessness; and endea-
vours to show that having done so, he was obliged still
in reality to fall back upon the doctrines he had
attacked : since he also allowed that external things,
though they could not be goods, might still be fit
objects of the wise man's aims, or fit for him to have,
as being agreeable to nature. The Peripatetic doc-
trine is, Cicero maintains, a complete philosophy; out
of which various teachers have picked their tenets;
one from one part, another from another. At last
come the Stoics, who take, not this part or that, but
the whole structure of our philosophy, and disfigure it
that it may not be known, as tlueves obliterate the
marks of things which they steal (v. 25).

But though Cicero, in his critical discussions, thus
maintains that the Stoic doctrines are partly erroneons
and partly superfluous, we see, in his manner of treat-
ing positive morality, that the Stoical mode of selecting
and expressing the leading principles of morals had
really a prominent place in his view of the subject. In
his Offices he adopts the Stoical rather than any other
view. He says, as you wUl recollect, at the outset of
the work, that while those who make Pleasure the End
of human action cannot speak consistentiy and in-
telligibly of Duties, all the other sects can do so, as
the Stoics, Academics, and Peripatetics (i. 2). But
he adds that he intends especially to foUow the Stoics;
not as authority, but as sources out of which he is to
draw truth by has own methods. And his rule, that
the utUe can never really come into comparison with
the honestum, so that one shall be weighed against' the
other, is the simple expression of that whidi is true


in the Stoical paradoxes. And this rule becomes more
evidently still a branch of the Stoical scheme, -when it
is expressed in the technical terms of the sect, as it is
in the Third Boot, Vsrhere the author speaks of the appa-
rent conflict of the utile and the honestvm,. He there
gives what he calls the Formula of the Stoics, as the
fundamental principle by which such cases are to be
decided. We shall take this formula, he says, (iii. 4),
because though our Academic and Peripatetic Schools
also teach that what is virtuous is to be preferred
to what is useful — quae honesta sunt aateponuntur
iis quae videntur utilia — ^yet this is more grandly ex-
pressed by the Stoics — splendidius hsec ab iis disse-
runtur, quibus quicquid honestum est idem utile
videtur : nee utile quidquam quod non honestum —
who say that what is virtuous is useful : that nothing
can be useful which is not right. And the Stoical
Formula which he gives is this : — " Detrahere aliquid
alteri, et hominem hominis incommodo suum augere
commodum, magis est contra naturam quam mors,
qnam paupfertas, quam dolor, quam csetera quse pos-
simt aut corpori accidere aut rebus extemis." We
see the conspicuous and cardinal place which is as-
sumed by this conception of things cmdrary to the
natv/re and according to the nature of man. And he
afterwards goes on to explain at more length how such
actions as he describes are contrary to the nature
which men have in common, and which binds them
together as a universal community. " To abstract from
another what is his, to increase your comfort by his
discomfort, is more contrary to nature than death,
poverty, pain, or any of the other things which can
happen to the body or to man's external condition.
In the first place it takes away the community of life
and social character which belongs to man. If we
are to be so purposed that each one may despoil or do
violence to another for his own gain, that society of
man with man which is the most natural condition of
man must be broken up. • Just as if each member of
the body had a separate sense, and were persuaded
that it would thrive by drawing to itself the strength


of the neighbouring members, the result would be that
the whole body would perish : — so if each of us tries
to draw to himself the comforts of others, and takes
from others what he can, for the sake of his own
benefit; the social condition of man, his union into a
community, must be destroyed." And he goes on to
say that magnanimity, kindness, justice, liberality,
are more according to nature than pleasure, riches or
life itself We cannot but consider these expressions
as very significant and important, notwithstanding
that they may be complained of as being vague or
arbitrary, when we find them repeated by thoughtful
and acute moralists in all ages, down to our own.
You will recoUect that Bishop Butler, begins his dis-
sertation concerning virtue by reference to these very
expressions (Preface to Sermons), "The following
discourses... were intended to explain what is meant
by the nature of man when it is said, that vice is con-
trary to the nature of man, &c."

The doctrine of the Stoical sect found great fevour
at Rome, and entered largely into the opinions of the
more educated Eomans at the end of the Republic
and under the early emperors. By reducing the Rule
of Idfe to a single principle, this conformity to nature,
it gave to its scheme a symmetry and simplicity which
are strong recommendations to the mind of man; and
its denial of the value of external things was accepted
as a kind of protection from possible calamities, when
the tyranny of the emperors made all external advan-
tages insecure. The Roman, indignant at the loss of
his political freedom, found a kmd of internal free-
dom in the- philosophy which placed him above the
hope and fear of external gain and loss; and by its
precepts he disciplined himself to be ready to bear or
to terminate the most adverse lot.

We have Stoicism in this form in various writers
of this period. We find Seneca discussing the same
questions as Cicero, though embracing more openly the
Stoical doctriaes. He uses indeed almost the same
phraseology, which I have quoted from Cicero. Thus,
Epistle 95, "We are aU members of one body. Na-


ture made us all cousins when she generated us from
the same origin to the same end. And so she instilled
into us a mutual love and made us capable of society,
(sociabiles), and so she gave being to justice and
equity. By the constitution which she has given us
it is more wretched to injure than to be injured.
Mutual help is her command. That verse of the poet
must be in our hearts as weU as our mouths :

Homo sum, humani nihil a, me alienum puto.

Human society is like an arch of stones, which would
fall to pieces if they did not support one another."

Moreover, the Stoical philosophy in its later
teachers elevated itself to a moral purity which drew
admiration, and combined with its uncompromising
sternness, a spirit both of kindliness and of natural
piety. We see it in this form in the Manual of Epic-
tetus; a work which has had no small influence even
up to modem times. It was translated into English
in the last generation by Mrs Carter; and we find
Mr Southey writing to his correspondent Mr Taylor
(Vol. I. p. 323), "You will perhaps smile to hear
that the first book that ever seriously influenced my
opinions and my conduct was the Manual of Epic-
tetus." Perhaps the purity, the benevolence, and the
piety of Epictetus were not all drawn from heathen
sources. He was the servant of Epaphroditus, a cour-
tier of Nero; and though we cannot assume that this
is Epaphroditus the friend of St Paul and his mes-
senger to the Philippians, it is very possible that Epic-
tetus was among those of Caesar's household who had
heard the preaching of Paul or of his immediate dis-
ciples. However that may be, it is impossible not to
be struck with the higher, more benevolent, and more
pious tone of the moral philosophers of this time : —
of Seneca, for instance, who, as the ancient fathers
have remarked, Clvristianizes.

But perhaps you may be disposed to ask, Since
this view of the Rule of human action, that man is to
aim at something which is right and excellent — ho-
nestum — koKov — at something which is good in a


peculiar and eminent sense — at something wMch is
morally good, and not merely a good such as gain or
pleasure is; — since this view is so generally assented
to and is accepted by successive generations, as that
vsrhich truly represents their convictions, as the
true voice of the human race; — since this is so, what
have those to say for themselves who take the oppo-
site side? How can men be found bold and perverse
enough to declare that mankind are and must be
governed by the desire of gain or of pleasui-e when
mankind repudiate such language as the expression
of their rule of action? How can men assert that
the rule of action is to do what is profitable, when the
language of all times has made an opposition between
what is profitable and what is right fe,miliar to us,
and has never hesitated in its preference of the
latter? How can the Epicurean venture to assert
that pleasure is the only good of man, when aU men
look upon him with suspicion and repugnance on.
account of this very assertion?

What the modes of presenting the Epicurean doc-
trine, and by what arguments it was supported, we
may see in the first Book of the Dialogue De Finibus.
Torquatus, who maintains the Epicurean side,
gives this account of the head of his sect (i. i8),
" Epicurus, that Epicurus whom you speak of as too
entirely given up to pleasure — ^he declares, he pro-
claims, that no one can live in pleasure who does not
live wisely, honestly, justly: and that no one can live
wisely, honestly, and justly, without living pleasur-
ably. For, he teaches, a State cannot be happy while
it is labouring under a sedition, nor a house while its
masters are at variance with one another : and thus a
mind which is at variance with itself, and in a condi-
tion of internal discord, cannot taste any portion of pure
and liquid pleasure. It must be distracted with op-
posing and contending aims, and unable to see its way
to quiet and peace. Now, if the comfort of life is
impeded by any gi-ave disease of the body, how much
more must it be impeded by diseases of the mind !
And diseases, of the mind are such afi'ections as these, — •


Vast and craying desires of riches, glory, power, and
of the pleasures of sense : — to these we may add vex-
,ation, discontent, grief, which gnaw the mind and
break it down with cares." He adds, indeed, as if
resolved to come back to his Epicurean key-note,
"with cares that men suffer because they do not
understand that nothing is really a matter of grief
which is not connected with pain of the iody, present
or future." But it is plain that this limitation of
all pain and trouble to a bodily origin is a mere
forraiila of the sect, not at all corresponding to the
condition of human nature. And the mode in which
he proceeds leaves no trace of this limitation. He
goes on. " Unwise men are always suffering under
these diseases, and are therefore unhappy." "And
;so," he adds, after some other remarks, "no unwise
man is happy, and no wise man is unhappy ; and we
hold this much more truly and reasonably than the
Stoics. They deny that anything is good_ except
some shadowy kind of I know not what, which they
call right (honestum) — a name rather splendid than
sohd. They say that virtue supported by this recti-
tude requires no addition of pleasure, and is content
with itself for happiness. And this too may be said,
not only without our contradicting it, but even with
our approbation. For thus is the wise man always
introduced by Epicurus. His desires are limited; he
is not afraid of death: he thinks of the immortal
gods truly but fearlessly : he does not hesitate, if so
it be better, to migrate out of life : and thus prepared,
he is always in a state of pleasure." It is obvious
that this estimate of pleasure differs little from the
Stoical view of that composure which necessarily
follows virtue; and it is evident also that the Epi-
curean who teaches such a doctrine, feels himself
elevated above the mere votary of pleasure^ in its
ordinary sense, in virtue of the character which his
own mind and thoughts have impressed upon ordi-
nary objects of desire. He has given to the concep-
tion of pleasure a turn which makes it in a great
measure independent of external things and_ condi-
tions, and which really approaches, as it is here


allowed, to the view of the school of independent
morality. Accordingly Cicero, in his reply to the
Epicurean argument which he gives in the next Book,
seizes upon this disclosure of the inevitable moral
convictions' and habits which work in men's bosoms
when they pursue such discussions (ii. i6). "Your
Epicurus," he says, " though he speaks of pleasure as
the end of human action, is so conquered by nature,
that he says, as you have been saying, that men
cannot live happily except they live virtuously. And
you, Torquatus, when you said that Epicurus declares
and proclaims that no one can live in pleasure who
does not live honestly, wisely, justly, you seemed
to me to exult in what you said. So great a power
there was ia the words, on account of the dignity of
that which they signified, that you drew yourself up
to a greater stature, spoke in a more measured man-
ner, and looked proudly at us, calling upon us to bear
witness that virtue and justice were praised at times
by Epicurus. And very cheering it was in you to
use those words. If philosophers did not use such,
we should have no need of philosophy. It is through
the love they bear to those words, so rarely used by
EpicTU-us, the names of wisdom, fortitude, justice,
temperance, that the finest intellects among men have
been drawn to the study of philosophy."

And thus, without adopting the technicalities and
extravagances of the Stoics, we may consider that
the general body of speculative men in all ages, who
have turned their thoughts to morality, have accepted
their doctrine, that the true rule of human action is
derived from the nature of man ; and is fitly expressed
by speaking of a rectitude which is to govern Ms
actions, a virtue which is to be the mistress of his
life, a nature which is altogether opposed to violence
and fraud and ill done to others, and which shuns
such things more than it shuns pain and loss, and all
the other inflictions from which man's mere animal
nature jnost recoils.

But the Homans, besides thus arguing out the
opposition of the Grecian ethical sects, introduced
new views, which I will try to explain.


THE Ethical speculations of the Greeks turned
much, as we have seen, on the definition and
classification of Virtues: but following this path, did
not lead to any distinct and abiding body of ethical
truth. When this essay had thus in some measure
failed, a new step was made which led to more per-
manent results, if not in Ethics, at least in a subject
very nearly related to Ethics. The definition and
classification of Rights was scrutinized instead of the
definition and classification of Virtues; and Juris-
prudence instead of Ethics became the study of those
who dealt with man's moral nature.

This step is remarkable, not only in itself, but be-
cause it was made by a nation whom we generally
consider as deficient in original philosophical genius :
as having, in philosophy, done nothing more than
transmit to us, somewhat modified, what they received
from the Greeks. The Eomans were a practical, not
a speculative people ; they did not produce wide theo-
ries which occupied the thoughts and formed the
opinions of men in all succeeding ages, but they con-
quered the world by their arms and governed it by
their laws. And in consequence of this very charac-
ter of theirs it was, that without being aware that
they were discoverers, they made an important step
in ethical theory. For morality is, as we have seen,
eminently and peculiarly a practical science; and its
truths must be acted first and contemplated after-
wards. The Koman, long before he was introduced


by his Greek teachers to the notion of a general abs-
tract morality, had his judgment of right and wrong
directed by the laws and customs of his country; for
which he had an unbounded reverence, which were
wrought into his character by the strong pressure of
a strict education, and which moulded his conduct and
his opinions in all the events of his life. Law was to
him something so venerable and sacred that he could
not look upon it otherwise than as the immediate
efflux and representative of Justice herself. You will
recollect how often Cicero expresses his enthusiastic
admiration for the Lawgivers of his own country, and
places them upon a level with the greatest of EthicaJ
philosophers. You will recollect too that he insists
upon the existence of a fundamental Natural Law,
which is the basis and source of all Enacted Law, and
which determines what is right and wrong with an
authority not bounded by time, or place, or human will.
Assertions of this kind, it wiU perhaps be said,
may be traced in earlier times, and are found ia the
writings of the Greeks ; and it is true, that in dim
and floating forms, we see such lines of thought in
the speculations of Grecian philosophers and poets.
But that which gives fixity and permanence to dis-
tinctions and arrangements of this nature, is their
being bound together in a single word, and stamped
with an appropriate term. When that is done, this
distinction is not only perceived and recognized, but
becomes a new starting-point for man's reasonings,
and as it were, a fresh element of thought. The
mark of the difference of the Grecian and the Roman
habit of thought on such matters, is the word Jus in
the Latin language, to which we have no correspond-
ing word in Greek. The Greeks, for instance, could
express the jus gentium only as vo/aos koivos, or in
some similar way; but a Latin writer would never
have said lex gentium in such a sense.

And a little attention will soon enable us to see
what is the relation of these two notions. Jus is the
foundation of Xea;; right is the foundation of law; and
especially to those Eoman habits of thought of which I


have spoken, which repudiated the belief that law was
something accidental and arbitrary.

But it naay be said, How then does Jus differ from
the virtue of Justice ? Is not SiKaioavvr], or to Sikiuov,
according to the Greek moralists, the natural foundation
of law; and is not this truth all that is expressed by
the relation of the Latin words? And to this we shall
be able to reply, if we consider what is the difference,
when the words are rigorously taken, between justice
and right. Justice is a virtue existing in the mind of
man, and disposing him to give to each man what is
his due ; but Bight (substantive) is this due considered
as belonging to him to whom it is to be given. Be-
cause my neighbour has fights, I must act towards him
mth justice, and respect them. But further, though
Jtis is distinct from enacted Law, it is considered as
that which Law must necessarily confirm and assure ;
while SiKotov implies no such necessity. If the Law
do not give me my Right, the state of things in which
I live is imperfect and inconsistent; it does not realize
what I inevitably assume as the requisite condition of
human existence; that is, of civil existence; for, look-
ing at the matter as a Roman at least, I cannot admit
or conceive any human existence withoiit civil ties
and civil laws. And thus as Right is the natural
foundation of Law, Law is the necessary sanction of
Right. In merely calling an action or disposition just,
no such necessity, no such connection is implied. It
may be just that another man should be grateful for
good advice or consolation in sorrow ; but if he is not,
I have no right to gratitude from him, in any sense
in which Right is correlative with Law. Such rights
have by modern writers been called imperfect rights;
but they do not enter at all into the meaning of the
Roman Jus.

If this distinction appear at first somewhat subtle
and minute, I must justify it by again reminding you,
that the l^atin word Jus is a term to which no word
in previous speculations exactly corresponds : and that
this word, its derivatives and compounds, and the cor-
responding words in other languages, have, ever since
M. P. II. 5


its introduction, had a great share in determining the
form and distribution of the doctrine of Ethics. The
relation expressed by Jws and Lex in Latin, by Right
amd Law in English, by Rtcht and Gesetz in German,
by Droit and Loi in French, requires to be carefully
attended to in our moral speculations. And one great
portion at least of the science of morality must be the
science of this Jus, this Right, this Recht, this Droit.
Now here our own language has a peculiarity which,
for our present purposes, must be felt as a disadvantage.
In Latin, German and French, the same word which
expresses the Rights, th^ AttriJnutes of persons, expresses
also the body of true Doctrines which relate to those
rights. Thus the body of rules of natural justice which
embrace all mankind, which is called Jus Gentium in
Latin, we cannot in English call the Right of Nations;
we are compelled to call it the Law of Nations; and
thus, to leave it doubtfiil whether or not we speak
of such Law as only arbitrary and conventionaL And
in like manner we are destitute of a term for the
Doctrine of Rights in general, although we shall find it
vain to attempt to frame a coherent system of morals,
without drawing an accurate distinction between the
doctrine of Rights and the doctrine of Moral Rectitude.
Some English writers have used the term Jurisprudence
as equivalent with the Latin Jus, the German Rechi,
the French Droit: while others have spoken of this
province as Legislation. The latter writers have gone
back to that resource to which the Greeks were driven
by the deficiency in their language. For the Roman
Jurists are, in the Greek of Justinian, called vo/jLoOeT^
o-avres; and Theophilus, one of the framers of the Pan-
dects, cannot describe the objects of Doctrinal Jus
any other wise than by calling them that on which
voiioOwm is employed. The defect of this nomenclature
has already been stated. It leaves room to the assump-
tion, utterly fatal to the cultivation of the Doctrine

Online LibraryWilliam WhewellLectures on the history of moral philosophy → online text (page 29 of 35)