Page:EB1911 - Volume 14.djvu/23

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

than there is excited in us a feeling similar to that which myriads of actions and habits of the same class, or deemed to be of the same class, have excited in us on former occasions. Now, supposing the latter part of this process to be instantaneous, uniform and exempt from error, the former certainly is not. All mankind may, apart from their selfish interests, approve that which is virtuous or makes for the general good, but surely they entertain the most widely divergent opinions, and, in fact, frequently arrive at directly opposite conclusions as to particular actions and habits. This obvious distinction is undoubtedly recognized by Hutcheson in his analysis of the mental process preceding moral action, nor does he invariably ignore it, even when treating of the moral approbation or disapprobation which is subsequent on action. None the less, it remains true that Hutcheson, both by his phraseology, and by the language in which he describes the process of moral approbation, has done much to favour that loose, popular view of morality which, ignoring the necessity of deliberation and reflection, encourages hasty resolves and unpremeditated judgments. The term “moral sense” (which, it may be noticed, had already been employed by Shaftesbury, not only, as Dr Whewell appears to intimate, in the margin, but also in the text of his Inquiry), if invariably coupled with the term “moral judgment,” would be open to little objection; but, taken alone, as designating the complex process of moral approbation, it is liable to lead not only to serious misapprehension but to grave practical errors. For, if each man’s decisions are solely the result of an immediate intuition of the moral sense, why be at any pains to test, correct or review them? Or why educate a faculty whose decisions are infallible? And how do we account for differences in the moral decisions of different societies, and the observable changes in a man’s own views? The expression has, in fact, the fault of most metaphorical terms: it leads to an exaggeration of the truth which it is intended to suggest.

But though Hutcheson usually describes the moral faculty as acting instinctively and immediately, he does not, like Butler, confound the moral faculty with the moral standard. The test or criterion of right action is with Hutcheson, as with Shaftesbury, its tendency to promote the general welfare of mankind. He thus anticipates the utilitarianism of Bentham—and not only in principle, but even in the use of the phrase “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” (Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil, sect. 3).

It is curious that Hutcheson did not realize the inconsistency of this external criterion with his fundamental ethical principle. Intuition has no possible connexion with an empirical calculation of results, and Hutcheson in adopting such a criterion practically denies his fundamental assumption.

As connected with Hutcheson’s virtual adoption of the utilitarian standard may be noticed a kind of moral algebra, proposed for the purpose of “computing the morality of actions.” This calculus occurs in the Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil, sect. 3.

The most distinctive of Hutcheson’s ethical doctrines still remaining to be noticed is what has been called the “benevolent theory” of morals. Hobbes had maintained that all our actions, however disguised under apparent sympathy, have their roots in self-love. Hutcheson not only maintains that benevolence Benevolence. is the sole and direct source of many of our actions, but, by a not unnatural recoil, that it is the only source of those actions of which, on reflection, we approve. Consistently with this position, actions which flow from self-love only are pronounced to be morally indifferent. But surely, by the common consent of civilized men, prudence, temperance, cleanliness, industry, self-respect and, in general, the “personal virtues,” are regarded, and rightly regarded, as fitting objects of moral approbation. This consideration could hardly escape any author, however wedded to his own system, and Hutcheson attempts to extricate himself from the difficulty by laying down the position that a man may justly regard himself as a part of the rational system, and may thus “be, in part, an object of his own benevolence” (Ibid.),—a curious abuse of terms, which really concedes the question at issue. Moreover, he acknowledges that, though self-love does not merit approbation, neither, except in its extreme forms, does it merit condemnation, indeed the satisfaction of the dictates of self-love is one of the very conditions of the preservation of society. To press home the inconsistencies involved in these various statements would be a superfluous task.

The vexed question of liberty and necessity appears to be carefully avoided in Hutcheson’s professedly ethical works. But, in the Synopsis metaphysicae, he touches on it in three places, briefly stating both sides of the question, but evidently inclining to that which he designates as the opinion of the Stoics in opposition to what he designates as the opinion of the Peripatetics. This is substantially the same as the doctrine propounded by Hobbes and Locke (to the latter of whom Hutcheson refers in a note), namely, that our will is determined by motives in conjunction with our general character and habit of mind, and that the only true liberty is the liberty of acting as we will, not the liberty of willing as we will. Though, however, his leaning is clear, he carefully avoids dogmatizing, and deprecates the angry controversies to which the speculations on this subject had given rise.

It is easy to trace the influence of Hutcheson’s ethical theories on the systems of Hume and Adam Smith. The prominence given by these writers to the analysis of moral action and moral approbation, with the attempt to discriminate the respective provinces of the reason and the emotions in these processes, is undoubtedly due to the influence of Hutcheson. To a study of the writings of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson we might, probably, in large measure, attribute the unequivocal adoption of the utilitarian standard by Hume, and, if this be the case, the name of Hutcheson connects itself, through Hume, with the names of Priestley, Paley and Bentham. Butler’s Sermons appeared in 1726, the year after the publication of Hutcheson’s two first essays, and the parallelism between the “conscience” of the one writer and the “moral sense” of the other is, at least, worthy of remark.

II. Mental Philosophy.—In the sphere of mental philosophy and logic Hutcheson’s contributions are by no means so important or original as in that of moral philosophy. They are interesting mainly as a link between Locke and the Scottish school. In the former subject the influence of Locke is apparent throughout. All the main outlines of Locke’s philosophy seem, at first sight, to be accepted as a matter of course. Thus, in stating his theory of the moral sense, Hutcheson is peculiarly careful to repudiate the doctrine of innate ideas (see, for instance, Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil, sect. 1 ad fin., and sect. 4; and compare Synopsis Metaphysicae, pars i. cap. 2). At the same time he shows more discrimination than does Locke in distinguishing between the two uses of this expression, and between the legitimate and illegitimate form of the doctrine (Syn. Metaph. pars i. cap. 2). All our ideas are, as by Locke, referred to external or internal sense, or, in other words, to sensation and reflection (see, for instance, Syn. Metaph. pars i. cap. 1; Logicae Compend. pars i. cap. 1; System of Moral Philosophy, bk. i. ch. 1). It is, however, a most important modification of Locke’s doctrine, and one which connects Hutcheson’s mental philosophy with that of Reid, when he states that the ideas of extension, figure, motion and rest “are more properly ideas accompanying the sensations of sight and touch than the sensations of either of these senses”; that the idea of self accompanies every thought, and that the ideas of number, duration and existence accompany every other idea whatsoever (see Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions, sect. i. art. 1; Syn. Metaph. pars i. cap. 1, pars ii. cap. 1; Hamilton on Reid, p. 124, note). Other important points in which Hutcheson follows the lead of Locke are his depreciation of the importance of the so-called laws of thought, his distinction between the primary and secondary qualities of bodies, the position that we cannot know the inmost essences of things (“intimae rerum naturae sive essentiae”), though they excite various ideas in us, and the assumption that external things are known only through the medium of ideas (Syn. Metaph. pars i. cap. 1), though, at the same time, we are assured of the existence of an external world corresponding to these ideas. Hutcheson attempts to account for our assurance of the reality of an external world by referring it to a natural instinct (Syn. Metaph. pars i. cap. 1). Of the correspondence or similitude between our ideas of the primary qualities of things and the things themselves God alone can be assigned as the cause. This similitude has been effected by Him through a law of nature. “Haec prima qualitatum primariarum perceptio, sive mentis actio quaedam sive passio dicatur, non alia similitudinis aut convenientiae inter ejusmodi ideas et res ipsas causa assignari posse videtur, quam ipse Deus, qui certa naturae lege hoc efficit, ut notiones, quae rebus praesentibus excitantur, sint ipsis similes, aut saltem earum habitudines, si non veras quantitates, depingant” (pars ii. cap. 1). Locke does speak of God “annexing” certain ideas to certain motions of bodies; but nowhere does he propound a theory so definite as that here propounded by Hutcheson, which reminds us at least as much of the speculations of Malebranche as of those of Locke.

Amongst the more important points in which Hutcheson diverges from Locke is his account of the idea of personal identity, which he appears to have regarded as made known to us directly by consciousness. The distinction between body and mind, corpus or materia and res cogitans, is more emphatically accentuated by Hutcheson than by Locke. Generally, he speaks as if we had a direct consciousness of mind as distinct from body (see, for instance, Syn. Metaph. pars ii. cap. 3), though, in the posthumous work on Moral Philosophy, he expressly states that we know mind as we know body “by qualities immediately perceived though the substance of both be unknown” (bk. i. ch. 1). The distinction between perception proper and sensation proper, which occurs by implication though it is not explicitly worked out (see Hamilton’s Lectures on Metaphysics, Lect. 24; Hamilton’s edition of Dugald Stewart’s Works, v. 420), the imperfection of the ordinary division of the external senses into five classes, the limitation of consciousness to a special mental faculty (severely criticized in Sir W. Hamilton’s Lectures on Metaphysics, Lect. xii.) and the disposition to refer on disputed questions of philosophy not so much to formal arguments as to the testimony of consciousness and our natural instincts are also amongst the points in which Hutcheson supplemented or departed from the philosophy of Locke. The last point can hardly fail to suggest the “common-sense philosophy” of Reid.

Thus, in estimating Hutcheson’s position, we find that in particular questions he stands nearer to Locke, but in the general spirit of his philosophy he seems to approach more closely to his Scottish successors.

The short Compendium of Logic, which is more original than such