[Paleopsych] Excerpts from 'The Roads to Modernity'

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First Chapter: 'The Roads to Modernity'

The British did not have "philosophes." They had "moral
philosophers," a very different breed. Those historians who
belittle or dismiss the idea of a British Enlightenment do
so because they do not recognize the features of the
philosophes in the moral philosophers-and with good reason:
the physiognomy is quite different.

It is ironic that the French should have paid tribute to
John Locke and Isaac Newton as the guiding spirits of their
own Enlightenment, while the British, although respectful
of both, had a more ambiguous relationship with them.
Newton was eulogized by David Hume as "the greatest and
rarest genius that ever rose for the ornament and
instruction of the species," and by Alexander Pope in the
much quoted epitaph: "Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in
night;/God said, Let Newton be! and all was light." But
Pope's An Essay on Man sent quite a different message: "The
proper study of mankind is man" implied that materialism
and science could penetrate into the mysteries of nature
but not of man. In an earlier essay, the allusion to Newton
was more obvious; it was human nature, not astronomy, Pope
said, that was "the most useful object of humane reason,"
and it was "of more consequence to adjust the true nature
and measures of right and wrong, than to settle the
distance of the planets and compute the times of their
circumvolutions." While Newton received the adulation of
his countrymen (he was master of the Royal Mint and
president of the Royal Society, was knighted, and given a
state funeral), and his scientific methodology was much
praised, he had little substantive influence on the moral
philosophers or on the issues that dominated the British
Enlightenment. (His Opticks, on the other hand, was an
inspiration for poets, who were entranced by the images and
metaphors of light.)

John Locke, too, was a formidable presence in
eighteenth-century Britain, a best-selling author and a
revered figure. But among the moral philosophers he was
admired more for his politics than for his metaphysics.
Indeed, the basic tenets of their philosophy implied a
repudiation of his. What made them "moral philosophers"
rather than "philosophers" tout court was their belief in a
"moral sense" that was presumed to be if not innate in the
human mind (as Francis Hutcheson thought), then so
entrenched in the human sensibility, in the form of
sympathy or "fellow-feeling" (as Adam Smith and David Hume
had it), as to have the same compelling force as innate

Locke himself could not have been more explicit in
rejecting innate ideas, whether moral or metaphysical. The
mind, as he understood it, so far from being inhabited by
innate ideas, was a tabula rasa, to be filled by sensations
and experiences, and by the reflections rising from those
sensations and experiences. The title of the first chapter
of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding was "No Innate
Speculative Principles" (that is, epistemological
principles); the second, "No Innate Practical Principles"
(moral principles). Even the golden rule, that "most
unshaken rule of morality and foundation of all social
virtue," would have been meaningless to one who had never
heard that maxim and who might well ask for a reason
justifying it, which "plainly shows it not to be innate."
If virtue was generally approved, it was not because it was
innate, but because it was "profitable," conducive to one's
self-interest and happiness, the promotion of pleasure and
the avoidance of pain. Thus, things could be judged good or
evil only by reference to pleasure or pain, which were
themselves the product of sensation.

Locke's Essay was published in 1690. Nine years later, the
Earl of Shaftesbury wrote an essay that was, in effect, a
refutation of Locke. This, too, had its ironies, for this
Shaftesbury, the third earl, was brought up in the
household of his grandfather, the first earl, who was a
devotee of Locke and had employed him to supervise the
education of his grandchildren. It was this experience that
had inspired Locke's Thoughts Concerning Education-and
inspired as well, perhaps, the pupil's rejection of his
master's teachings. Shaftesbury's essay, "An Inquiry
Concerning Virtue, or Merit," was published (without his
permission but to great acclaim) in 1699 and reprinted in
1711 in somewhat revised form in his Characteristics of
Men, Manners, Opinions, Times. That three-volume work,
reissued posthumously three years later and in ten more
editions in the course of the century, rivalled Locke's
Second Treatise (a political, not metaphysical tract) as
the most frequently reprinted work of the time. The
hundred-page essay on virtue was the centerpiece of those

Virtue, according to Shaftesbury, derived not from
religion, self-interest, sensation, or reason. All of these
were instrumental in supporting or hindering virtue, but
were not the immediate or primary source of it. What was
"antecedent" to these was the "moral sense," the "sense of
right and wrong." [Shaftesbury's "moral sense" was very
different from John Rawls's recent use of that term. For
Shaftesbury it was an innate sense of right and wrong; for
Rawls it is an intuitive conviction of the rightness of
freedom and equality.] It was this sense that was
"predominant ... inwardly joined to us, and implanted in
our nature," "a first principle in our constitution and
make," as natural as "natural affection itself." This
"natural affection," moreover, was "social affection," an
affection for "society and the public," which, so far from
being at odds with one's private interest, or
"self-affection," actually contributed to one's personal
pleasure and happiness. A person whose actions were
motivated entirely or even largely by self-affection-by
self-love, self-interest, or self-good-was not virtuous.
Indeed, he was "in himself still vicious," for the virtuous
man was motivated by nothing other than "a natural
affection for his kind."

This was not a Rousseauean idealization of human nature, of
man before being corrupted by society. Nor was it a
Pollyannaish expectation that all or even most men would
behave virtuously all or most of the time. The moral sense
attested to the sense of right and wrong in all men, the
knowledge of right and wrong even when they chose to do
wrong. Indeed, a good part of Shaftesbury's essay dealt
with the variety of "hateful passions"-envy, malice,
cruelty, lust-that beset mankind. Even virtue, Shaftesbury
warned, could become vice when it was pursued to excess; an
immoderate degree of "tenderness," for example, destroyed
the "effect of love," and excessive "pity" rendered a man
"incapable of giving succour." The conclusion of the essay
was a stirring testament of an ethic that, by its very
nature-the "common nature" of man-was a social ethic: "Thus
the wisdom of what rules, and is first and chief in nature,
has made it to be according to the private interest and
good of everyone to work towards the general good; which if
a creature ceases to promote, he is actually so far wanting
to himself and ceases to promote his own happiness and
welfare.... And, thus, Virtue is the good, and Vice the ill
of everyone."

The contrast, not only with Thomas Hobbes but with Locke as
well, could not be more obvious. Neither was explicitly
named by Shaftesbury, perhaps out of respect for Locke, who
was still alive when the essay was written (although he had
died by the time it was reissued). But no knowledgeable
reader could have mistaken Shaftesbury's intention. In 1709
he wrote to one of his young proteges that Locke, even more
than Hobbes, was the villain of the piece, for Hobbes's
character and base slavish principles of government "took
off the poison of his philosophy," whereas Locke's
character and commendable principles of government made his
philosophy even more reprehensible.

'Twas Mr. Locke that struck at all fundamentals, threw all
order and virtue out of the world.... Virtue, according to
Mr. Locke, has no other measure, law, or rule, than fashion
and custom: morality, justice, equity, depend only on law
and will.... And thus neither right nor wrong, virtue nor
vice are any thing in themselves; nor is there any trace or
idea of them naturally imprinted on human minds. Experience
and our catechism teach us all!

As Shaftesbury did not mention Locke in the Inquiry, so
Bernard Mandeville did not mention Shaftesbury in The Fable
of the Bees-at least not in the first edition, published in
1714. But appearing just then, a year after Shaftesbury's
death and at the same time as the second edition of the
Characteristics, Mandeville's readers might well take it as
a rebuttal to Shaftesbury's work. The subtitle, Private
Vices, Public Benefits, reads like a manifesto contra

The original version of the Fable, published in 1705 as a
sixpenny pamphlet (and pirated, Mandeville complained, in a
halfpenny sheet), consisted of some thirty verses depicting
a society, a hive of bees, where everyone was a knave, and
where knavery served a valuable purpose. Every vice had its
concomitant virtue: avarice contributed to prodigality,
luxury to industry, folly to ingenuity. The result was a
"grumbling" but productive hive, where "... every part was
full of Vice,/ Yet the whole mass a Paradise." A
well-intentioned attempt to rid the hive of vice had the
effect of ridding it of its virtues as well, resulting in
the destruction of the hive itself, as all the bees, "blest
with content and honesty," abandoned industry and took
refuge in a hollow tree.

Lest the moral escape his readers, Mandeville reissued the
poem in 1714 with a prefatory essay, "The Origin of Moral
Virtue," and a score of lengthy "Remarks" amplifying lines
of the poem; the editions of 1723 and 1724 added still
other essays and remarks. In the enlarged version (now a
full-length book), Mandeville elaborated upon his thesis.
Self-love, which was reducible to pain and pleasure, was
the primary motivation of all men, and what was generally
called "pity" or "compassion"-the "fellow-feeling and
condolence for the misfortunes and calamities of
others"-was an entirely spurious passion, which
unfortunately afflicted the weakest minds the most.
Moralists and philosophers, he conceded, generally took the
opposite view, agreeing with the "noble writer" Lord
Shaftesbury that "as man is made for society, so he ought
to be born with a kind affection to the whole of which he
is a part, and a propensity to seek the welfare of it."

Maudeville's conclusion was sharp and uncompromising:

After this I flatter my self to have demonstrated that
neither the friendly qualities and kind affections that are
natural to man, nor the real virtues he is capable of
acquiring by reason and self-denial are the foundation of
society; but that what we call evil in this world, moral as
well as natural, is the grand principle that makes us
sociable creatures, the solid basis, the life and support
of all trades and employments without exception; that there
we must look for the true origin of all arts and sciences,
and that the moment evil ceases, the society must be
spoiled if not totally dissolved.

The Fable of the Bees profoundly shocked contemporaries,
provoking a frenzy of attacks culminating in a ruling
handed down by the grand jury of Middlesex condemning it as
a "public nuisance." Joining in the near-universal
condemnation were most of the eighteenth-century
greats-Bishop Berkeley, Francis Hutcheson, Edward Gibbon,
Adam Smith. Smith expressed the general sentiment in
pronouncing Mandeville's theory "licentious" and "wholly
pernicious." [Smith was offended not only by Mandeville's
amoralism, his refusal to distinguish between vice and
virtue, but also by his mercantilist views, which were a
by-product of that philosophy. Because there was no natural
moral sense and thus no natural harmony among men,
Mandeville assumed that the government had to intervene to
convert "private vices" into "public benefits." Mandeville
is sometimes taken to be an apologist for capitalism; but
it was mercantilism that was the logical deduction from his

Mandeville's was a spirited but futile attempt to abort the
social ethic that was the distinctive feature of the
British Enlightenment. That ethic derived neither from
self-interest nor from reason (although both were congruent
with it) but from a "moral sense" that inspired sympathy,
benevolence, and compassion for others. Thus, where Locke,
denying any innate principles, looked to education to
inculcate in children the sentiment of "humanity,"
"benignity," or "compassion," Shaftesbury rooted that
sentiment in nature and instinct rather than education or
reason. "To compassionate," he wrote, "i.e., to join with
in passion.... To commiserate, i.e., to join with in
misery.... This in one order of life is right and good;
nothing more harmonious; and to be without this, or not to
feel this, is unnatural, horrid, immane [monstrous]."

Two years after the publication of the expanded version of
the Fable, Francis Hutcheson entered the debate with An
Inquiry Concerning the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and
Virtue, reissued the following year with Virtue or Moral
Good replacing Beauty and Virtue. The subtitle of the
original edition gave its provenance: In Which the
Principles of the Late Earl of Shaftesbury Are Explained
and Defended, Against the Author of the Fable of the Bees.
It was here that Hutcheson first enunciated the principle,
"The greatest happiness for the greatest numbers." Unlike
Helvetius and Jeremy Bentham, who are often credited with
this principle and who rooted it in the rational
calculations of utility, Hutcheson deduced it from morality
itself-the "moral sense, viz. benevolence." [* Bentham
himself variously attributed this principle to Montesquieu,
Barrington, Beccaria, and Helvetius, "but most of all
Helvetius." Smith mistakenly attributed the origin of the
"moral sense" to Hutcheson rather than Shaftesbury.] These
words, "moral sense" and "benevolence," appear as a refrain
throughout the book. The moral sense, Hutcheson repeatedly
explained, was "antecedent" to interest because it was
universal in all men. "Fellow-feeling" could not be a
product of self-interest because it involved associating
oneself with such painful experiences as the suffering and
distress of others. So, too, the "disposition to
compassion" was essentially disinterested, a concern with
"the interest of others, without any views of private
advantage." It was also antecedent to reason or
instruction. Like Burke later, Hutcheson warned of the
frailty of reason: "Notwithstanding the mighty reason we
boast of above other animals, its processes are too slow,
too full of doubt and hesitation, to serve us in every
exigency, either for our own preservation, without the
external senses, or to direct our actions for the good of
the whole, without this moral sense."



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