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English reader. He deriyes right and wrong from
the consideration of man in a state of nature. And
this state of nature is, according to him {Leviathan,
p. 62), a state of mutual war ; a constant war of every
man against every man. In this state of nature no
moral element exists. "To this war of every man
against every man, this also is consequent, that
nothing can be unjust. The notions of Eight and
Wrong, Justice and Injustice, have there no place.
Where there is no common power, there is no Law;
where no Law, no Injustice. Force and Fraud are, in
war, the two cardinal virtues. Justice and Injustice are
none of the faculties either of the body or the mind"
{Leviathan, p. 63). From this state of nature springs
the civil body or commonwealth, the origin of rights
and duties. And this combination is {Leviathan,
p. 87) something more than consent and concord; it is
a real unity of them all in one and the same person.
The multitude, so united in one person, is called
a Commonwealth. "This is the generation," he adds,
" of that great Leviathan, or rather, to speak more
reverently" [that is with the reverence due to i«],
" of that Mortal God to which we owe (under the
Immortal God) our peace and defence." As there is
no element of justice or morality in man while still
unsocial, and no society but the union of individuals,
it is plain that in this way we can have no right and
wrong, except what positive law and consequent punish-
ment make such. Eight is the power of enforciug ;
Duty is the necessity of obeying.

Since the common power thus determines all ques-
tions, and acknowledges no counterpoise in man's
moral faculties, we may easily conceive with what
terrible attributes it must be invested. "The sove-


reign, whether he be a single person or an assembly,
contains in himself the origin of all good and justice.
No man can, without injustice, protest against his
ordinances" (Leviathan, p. 90). " His acts cannot be
accused. He is judge, not only of what is necessary
for the peace and defence of the whole, but he is
judge of what doctrines are fit to be taught" {Levia-
tham, p. 91). "It belongeth to him that hath the
sovereign power to be judge, or constitute all judges,
of opinions and doctrines, as a thing necessary to peace,
thereby to prevent discord and civil war." And thus,
even man's moral nature is annihilated in the pre-
sence of this overwhelming power. "In the next
place," he says in another part of his work (Leviathan,
p. 168), "I observe the diseases of a Commonwealth,
that proceed from the poison of seditious doctrines ;
whereof one is that every 'private rnan is judge of good
andevU actions,^'' whereas, he says, "it is manifest that
the measure of good and evil actions is the Civil Law ;
and the Judge, the Legislator, who is always the repre-
sentative of the Commonwealth. Prom this 'false
doctrine' men are disposed to debate with themselves,
and dispute the commands of the commonwealth ; and
afterwards to obey or disobey them, as in their pri-
vate judgments they shall think fit : whereby the Com-
monwealth is distracted and weakened."

Of course the authority of Conscience is thus abo-
lished by the power of Hobbes's Gommonwealth; nor
does he shun this consequence. "Another doctrine
repugnant to Civil Society is, that whatsoever a man
does against his conscience is sin : and it dependeth
(this even) on the presumption of making himself
judge of good and evil. Therefore, though he thfl,t
is subject to no Civil Law sinneth in all he does
against his conscience, because he has no other rule
to foUow but his own reason; yet it is not so with
him that lives in a commonwealth : because the Law
is the public conscience, by which he hath already un-
dertaken to be guided."

It is evident thab such principles must annihilate
all Civil Liberty as they destroy aU Morality. Accord-


ingly Hobbes maintains {Leviathcm, p. 89) that the
sovereign power cannot be forfeited; that the subject
cannot change the form of government. Not only so ;
but he dwells with strong predilection upon the advan-
tages of the most absolute monarchy. Thus he urges
(Leviathan, p. g6) that in monarchy, the private in-
terest of the man is the same with the public interest
of the sovereign ; — that " a monarch receiveth coun-
sel of whom, when, and where he pleaseth :" — " but
when a sovereign assembly hath need of counsel, none
are admitted but such as have a right thereto from
the beginning j which for the most part are of those
who have been versed more in the acquisition of
wealth than of knowledge :" — to which other advan-
tages of monarchy are added and insisted apon; while
the inconveniences of monarchy, though stated, are
diluted and balanced by bringing forwards greater in-
conveniences of assemblies.

Such then are the consequences which result from
taking man, divested of any moral principles, as the
element of the world, and building up the frame of
Civil Society by the mere juxta-position of individuals.
In this way is formed that Great Leviathan, which,
in this system, establishes and rules over all human
institutions, and even determines what shall be held
as divine. In reading this account we are almost led
to imagine to ourselves a monstrous idol, composed of
human beings, yet invested with the attributes of
superhuman power, and worshipped as the Creator of
Justice and Law, Peace and Order, Truth and Reli-
gion. But perhaps you think such an image too
strange, too monstrous, too terrible to be steadily
dwelt upon. Not so. It is the image oifered to us
by the author of the Leviathan himself : — offered too,
not in the vague lineaments and airy colours which
words bestow, in which so many an uncouth and ex-
travagant figure is presented withotit offending us ;
but carefully drawn as a visible picture in lines and
shades. It is the frontispiece of his book; and I
think no one can- look at the representation without
discovering in it a kind of grotesque sublimity. This


is tte picture. — Over a wide spreading landscape, in
which lie villages and cultivated fields, castles and
churches, rivers and ports, predominates the vast form
of the Sovereign, the Leviathan, the Mortal God. Its
breast and head rise behind the most distant bills j its
arms stretch to the foreground of the picture. Its
body and members are composed of thousands upon
thousands of human figures, in the varied dresses of
all classes of society ; all with their faces turned to-
wards the sovereign head, and bending towards it in
attitudes of worship. The head has upon it a kingly
crown ; the right hand bears a mighty sword; the left
a magnificent crosier. In the front of the picture is
a city with its gates and streets, its bastions and its
citadel; in which, high above all other edifices, rise
the two towers of a noble cathedral. Nor is this
figure thus predominating over the country and the
city, the only intimation how vast and comprehensive,
how strong and terrible, is the power thus bodied
forth. Below, in various compartments, are emblems
of the provinces and instruments of this power. On one
side, a castle on a rock, from the battlements of which
the smoke rolls, as a piece of ordnance is discharged;
on the other, a church with a figure upon its roof, of
Faith, holding her cross; on one side, the c6ronet;
on the other, the mitre. On the one side is a cannon,
the thunderbolt of war; on the other the thunder-
bolts, in their mythological form, indicating, perhaps,
the fulminations of the ecclesiastical sovereign. On
the one side, are the peaceable arms of Logic, Syllo-
gism and Dilemma, Spiritual and Temporal . argu-
ments ; on the other, the sharper arguments of mate-
rial arms, to be used by nations when reason fails,
lances and firelocks, drums and colours; finally, on
one side the judiciary tribunal, seated in solemn order,
with their dark robes and formal caps ; on the other,
the more stormy tribunal of the battle-field, the
charge of hostile armies, sloping spears, bristling
through volumes of smoke, the combat of horse and
foot, the victors and the dying. Nor must I pass un-
poticed, the physiognomy of the supreme figure itself.


In the common editions, the face has a manifest re-
remblance to Cromwell (the •work was published in
1651), although it wears, as I have said, a regal
crown : and in these, the engraving is well executed
and finished. But in the copy belonging to Trinity
College Library, the face appears to be intended for
Charles the First. The engraving of this copy is very
much worse than the other, and is not worked into
the same careful detail by the artist, although the
outline is the same : and the text of the book ia a
separate and worse impression, although the errata are
the same with the other copies, as well as the date.
How Hobbes himself, or any other person, should
come to print the Leviathan in this manner, I am
quite unable to explain.

I now proceed to notice the reception which this
and other works of Hobbes met with. Many of his
doctrines were at once condemned, not by divines only,
but by the generality of sober-minded men. Among
these we may place the great and good Lord Clarendon,
who objected to them as soon as they were published.
He relates, that as soon as he had read the Leviathan,
Hobbes's friend. Sir Charles Cavendish, asked him,
by the author's request, what his opinion was of the
book. " Upon which," he adds, " I wished he would
tell him, that I cotdd not enough wonder, that a man
who had so great a reverence for civil government,
that he resolved all wisdom, and religion itself, into
simple submission to it, should publish a book for
which by the constitution of any government now
established in Europe, whether monarchical or demo-
cratioal, the author must be punished in the highest
degree, and with the most severe penalties." The
political doctrines of this work, indeed, (which may be
summed in the expression I have used, that Might
makes Eight,) had perhaps a personal as well as a
philosophical object. For when at Paris, Clarendon
met Hobbes, then, like himself, an exile, in the time
of Cromwell's usurpation, Hobbes mentioned to him
some of the conclusions which his book, then printing,
was to contain. "Upon which I asked him," says


Clarendon, " why he ■would publish such doctrine : to
which, after a discourse between jest and earnest upon
the subject, he said, The truth is, I have a mind to go
home" Clarendon himself published a reply to the
Leviathan. This work, A brief View amd Survey of
the Dang&rous and Pernicious Errors to Chv/rch and
State in Mr Hobbes's book, entitled, The Leviathan,
did not appear till long after the work which it op-
posed. "It could not reasonably be expected," the
author says, " that such a book would be answered in
the time when it was published, which had been to
have disputed with a man that commanded thirty
legions, (for Cromwell had been obliged to support
hinn who defended his Usurpation) : and afterwards
men thought it would be too much ill nature to call
men in question for what they had said in ill times."
Hence the reply was not published till many years
after the Restoration, when Clarendon was again
exiled by the base and profligate sovereign whom he
had served too well. His dedication to the king be-
gins in a manner which, under the circumstances,
appears to me afiecting. " It is," he says, " one of the
false and evil doctrines which Mr Hobbes has pub-
lished in his Leviathan, that a banished subject, during
the banishment, is not a subject; — and that a banished
man is a lawful enemy of the Commonwealth that
banished him. I thank God, from the time that I
found myself under the insupportable burthen of your
majesty's displeasure, and under the infamous brand
of banishment, I have not thought myself one minute
absolved in the least degree from the obligation of the
strictest duty to your person, and of the highest grati-
tude that the most obliged servant can stand bound
in; or from the affection that a true and faithful
Englishman still owes, and must still pay to his coun-
try. And as I have every day since prayed for the
safety of your person, and the prosperity of your afiairs,
with the same devotion and integrity as for the salva-
tion of my own soul; so I have exercised my thoughts
in nothing so much as how to spend my time in doing
somewhat that may prove for your majesty's service


and honour." And he signs himself " Your majesty's
most faithful and obedient subject, and one of the
oldest subjects that is now living to your father and
yourself, Clarendon." The work is dated Moulins,
1673, and was printed by the University of Oxford ia
1676. Nor was this strong condemnation of Hobbes's
doctrines confined to persons, like Clarendon, of high
principles. In 1666 his Leviathcm, and treatise Be
Owe were condemned by the Parliament. And when
a bUl was brought into the House of Commons to
punish atheism and profaneness, Hobbes considered it
as likely to be employed against himself and was
much alarmed.

There were many other replies made to Hobbes
from the first. Tenison, afterwards Archbishop of
Canterbury, published a book called The Greed of Mr
Hobbes examined, in 1670; and Bishop Bramhall, a
little later, wrote The Catching of the Leviatham,^. I
shall not now dwell upon these and other works on
that side. It is plain, from all circumstances, that the
whole tone and temper of Hobbes's philosophy ofiended
and shocked those who had been accustomed to reve-
rence the doctrines of morality as usually taught. Thus
Bramhall says, that "if it be necessary, I will not
grudge, upon his desire, (God willing) to demonstrate
that his principles are pernicious both to Piety and
Policy, and destructive to all relations of mankind
between Prince and Subject, Father and Child, Master
and Servant, Husband and Wife; and that they who
maintain them obstinately, are fitter to live in hollow
trees among wild beasts than in any Christian or Po-
litical Society, so God bless us ! " {Preface to Defence
of True Liberty.) And it is stated that, ia this Uni-

i This was not the only allusion
to Hobbes's title whidi his adversa-
ries indulged in. Clarendon's An-
swer to him has a frontispiece which
exhibits Andromeda chained to a
rock, and a terrible sea-monster ad-
vancing through the water towards

her, while Perseus, his destined de-
stroyer, hovers above and prepares
to execute his task of liberating the
distressed maiden; who I suppose
represents Truth, as her foe does the


versity, a student was removed and punished for
offering to defend in tte schools a Thesis taken from
Hobbes's doctrine.

And yet in truth these tenets, so startling, so
alarming, so offensive, were very far from being new.
These bold paradoxes had long previously been brought
before the eyes of the speculative world. The whole
of this controversy had agitated the schools of philoso-
phy many ages earlier. The Greeks, who left few
paths of speculation untrodden, and who, in almost
every subject, seized the great antitheses between which
opinion still oscillates, had taken hold of that opposition
of systems which was here concerned, in the most
vigorous manner: and the Romans, who pursued as
rhetoricians what the Greeks had begun as philoso-
phers, found in this dispute a congenial field for their
eloquence and skill. The dialogues of Plato and of
Cicero are full of discussions which are, in substance,
the same as those which took place between the ad-
versaries and the disciples of Hobbes; — between those
who assert that moral right and wrong are pecuKar
and independent qualities of actions, and those who
say that these terms mean only that the actions lead
to other extraneous advantages and disadvantages.
The Stoics and the Epicureans represented, very nearly,
these opposite schools, which i-un through the history
of morals. It is true, that Christian philosophy had
for a long time driven into disgrace, and almost ex-
pelled, the tenet that pleasure alone is good, and that
power alone is justice. Yet even in the Christian
world such opinions had already reappeared after their
season of obscurity. The old controversies were be-
ginning to rouse themselves from their slumber, and
to come forwards, modified and somewhat changed.
Pomponatius and Machiavelli in Italy had attacked,
though covertly, the metaphysical and moral principles
which had reigned tiU their time uncontested; Gas-
sendi in Prance had professed and adopted the doctrines
of Epicurus, clothed in a Christian robej Descartes
was even then teaching that it was the philosopher's
duty to doubt of every thing before he believed. Nor


was the connexion of Hobbes's doctrines with those of
such men difficult to discern.

Gassendi was one of the most ardent admirers of
the philosopher of Malmesbury, as was Mersenne, who
was termed by the Parisians " the resident minister of
Descartes." And Hobbes's opinions were so far con-
sistent with the tendency of the times, and favoured by
external circumstances, that they found many admirers.
Many perhaps accepted some of the opinions without
seeing the tendency of the system. According to
what Clarendon says ; — " Of those who have read his
book, there are many who, being delighted with some
new notions and the pleasant and clear style throughout
the book, have not taken notice of those downright
conclusions which undermine all those principles of
government, which have preserved the peace of this
kingdom through so many ages, or restored it to peace
when it had at some time been interrupted; and much
less of those odious insinuations, and perverting some
texts of scripture, which do dishonour and would
destroy the very essence of the religion of Christ." It
would seem that Charles the Second himself and his
courtiers, who were, very naturally from what they
felt and saw, disposed to take the lowest view of hu-
man nature, were inclined to admire many of Hobbes's
maxims. Clarendon says, in the Dedication of his
Reply to Charles the Second, that he had often tried
and hoped to prevail upon his Majesty to give himself
the leisure and the trouble to peruse and examine some
parts of the Leviathcm, "in confidence that they would
be no sooner read than detested by you; whereas the
frequent reciting of loose and disjointed sentences and
bold inferences for the novelty and pleasantness of the
expressions; the reputation of the gentleman for parts
and learning, with his confidence in conversation ; and
especially the humour and inclination of the time to
all kind of paradoxes, have too much prevailed with
many of great wit and faculties, without reading the
context, or observation of the consequences, to believe
his propositions to be more innocent, than upon a
more deliberate perusal they will find them to be."



Undoubtedly such causes liad their effect in pro-
curing currency and influence to Hobbes's opinions.
He possessed in a great degree that quality of mind
and will which has often characterized the founders of
philosophical sects; and a comparison between him
and more recent writers who have become the heads
of more similar schools might be amusing and instruc-
tive. It will be found, at least in Hobbes's case, that
the most extravagant arrogance, joined with great and
indeed professed ignorance, does not destroy, if indeed
it do not favour, the power of the master over his
disciples. What is stUl more remarkable is, that this
power, although it generally implies great acuteness
on particular points, and the invention or adoption of
some clear short trains of reasoning in special cases, by
no means depends upon the faculty of following with
certainty and clearness a course of rigorous demon-
stration. The history of Hobbes afforded a very cu-
rious example of this. Among other studies, he turned
himself to that of mathematics; and in this, as in other
cases, his overweening self-opinion soon led him to
believe that he was infinitely superior to the professed
cultivators of the subject, — had detected their weak-
ness and error, and might treat them with supreme
disdain. He also persuaded himself that he could
solve the questions which had been attempted in vain
by mathematicians; and which they had now despaired
of, and set down as impracticable. He published a
Duplication of the cube; a problem, which, as is well
known, proposed in the time of Plato, has, up to the
present day, been considered (geometrically) impracti-
cable. It may perhaps be allowable in this place, and
not uninstructive, to describe the nature of Hobbes's
error, which led him to imagine he had solved this
problem. He gave a construction, in which two lines,
drawn in a certain manner in his diagram, each inter-
sected a third line; and his reasoning supposed that
the two intersected the third in the same single point.
Wallis and other mathematicians easily showed that,
although the two points of intersection were very near
each other, they did not absolutely coincide; and


Hobbes did not hesitate to reply, that the space occu-
pied by one of the points was large enough to take in
the other also.

This matter was the subject of long and angry
controversy. Hobbes wrote Quad/ratwa Circuli, Gu-
hatio SphoercB, BupUcafio Gubi : also Be Principiis et
JRatiocinatione Geometrarum Contra Fastuosum Pro-
fessorem: also Six Lessons to the Professors of the
Mathematics at Oxford (1656) : and also Sriy/Aai 'Aypu-
[lerpCai, 'AypoiKi'as, 'AvTwroXtTctas, 'A/iia^eias; or Marks
of the Absv/rd Geometry, Rural Language, Scottish
Church Politics, and Barbarisms of John Wallis, Pro-
fessor of Geometry amd Doctor of Divinity. These
writings are full of the most extravagant arrogance,
ignorance, and dogmatism which can be imagined.
Wallis, on the other side, treated his adversary with a
severity and contempt which, at any rate on this sub-
ject, there could be no doubt of his deserving, in his Rob-
biani puncti dispunctio : Hobbesius Heautontimorume-
nos: Due correction for Mr Hobbes, or School-discipline
for not saying his Lessons right; and other writings.

The same utter want of comprehension of the
nature of science appeared in Hobbes's judgment re-
specting the Royal Society of London, which he cen-
sured at its first institution for attending more to
minute experiment than general principles ; and said
that if the name of a philosopher was to be obtained
by relating a multifarious farrago of experiments, we
might expect to see apothecaries, gardeners, and per-
fumers rank among philosophers. And yet the man
who thus thought it ridiculous to seek for truth by
accumulating experiments, was one who in his youth
had lived in habits of intimate intercourse with Lord
Chancellor Bacon, and was said to have assisted him
in translating his works into Latin. Nor did this
contempt of facts withhold him from himself proposing
many explanations of physical phenomena j nor did
his profound ignorance of the very nature of science
prevent his drawing up a general scheme of the
branches of science and philosophy. (See The Levia-
than, Chap. I.)


The fact is, ttat those system-makers' who have
collected schools of the most devoted disciples, have
generally been persons who did not, in their systems,
attend, in any connected or philosophical manner, to
facts; but boldly and emphatically asserted a few
assumed principles, which the general progress of men's
minds had prepared them to receive; and who deduced
from these principles their consequences. They have
not been inductive, but deductive spirits, although it
by no means follows that, even in deduction, they were
exact and safe reasoners.

Some of Hobbes's contemporaries did not overlook
this unphilosophical character of his mind. Harring-
ton in his Oceama, notices it. "Of this kind," he
says (p. 2), " is the ratiocination of Leviathan through-
out his whole Politics, or worse ; as when he saith of
Aristotle and of Cicero, of the Greeks and Romans
who lived under popular states, that they derived
those rights, not from the Principles of Nature, but
ti-anscribed them, into their books out of the practice
of their own commonwealths, as grammarians describe
the rules of language out of poets. "Which is as if a
man should tell the famous Harvey, that he tran-

Online LibraryWilliam WhewellLectures on the history of moral philosophy → online text (page 5 of 35)