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The feast his tow'ring genius marks
It is rather curious to observe how nearly Pope's allotment of dinners approaches to the actual number of Southern's days, at the very birth-day which he celebrates. This, with the known minute love of precision which was characteristic of Pope, suggests the idea of a calculation and an oversight. In endeavouring to be precise, the poet forgot that he was setting a very near limit to the days he thus num. bered. Southern lived till 1746—four years longer.
HUTCHESOs, whose name holds an eminent place in the history of metaphysical philosophy, was the son of a presbyterian minister in the north of Ireland. The precise place of his birth is not mentioned; but he was born, 8th August, 1694. It is said that he displayed early indications of extraordinary intellectual power; and having been first sent to school, somewhere in his native country, where he completed so much of his education as is usually attained in schools—he was, in his sixteenth year, sent to the university of Glasgow, which was mostly preferred to our own university by the Irish dissenters.
In Glasgow he entered upon an assiduous course of study, and made in most branches of human knowledge then pursued, a proficiency suited to his talents, and to the character which he afterwards obtained. Having selected the ministerial profession, he more especially directed his attention to theological studies.
Having thus completed his university career, and mastered a varied and comprehensive course of reading, he returned to his native country; and, after undergoing the ordinary examinations, was admitted as a preacher by the presbyterians. This arrangement was not, however, carried into complete effect, when it was interrupted by an earnest invitation from several persons to whom his talent and acquirements were known, to set up an academy near Dublin. There his success was immediate and very great, but the reputation soon acquired by his firstrate powers was greater still. Ordinary talents are not easily distinguished and require the aid of much industry, address, and prudence, to place them in the light; and for one who becomes eminent, twenty at least of equal pretensions fail: but, men like Hutcheson, even under the most unfavourable circumstances, will soon be observed and distinguished—in every circle there is some clear-sighted eye; and minds of his class once fairly launched will soon emerge from vulgar competition. Hutcheson had only to come within the observation of Molesworth, Synge, and King, to obtain the allowance and stamp of intellectual station. From the two first-named eminent writers, lord Molesworth, and Dr Synge, bishop of Elphin, he received encouragement and counsel in the publication of his first work, “ An Inquiry into the Ideas of Beauty and Virtue.” This work, published anonymously, introduced him to lord Granville, the lord-lieutenant of Ireland at the time. When this nobleman had read the essay, he was so pleased with it that he sent to the bookseller desiring to be informed of the author's name. The bookseller did not comply, and was then intrusted with a letter for the author, desiring his acquaintance. Hutcheson availed himself of this flattering incident, and was always afterward received with high distinction by that nobleman.
A still more gratifying, as well as advantageous, consequence was the friendship of archbishop King. To the active friendship of this illustrious prelate, he was indebted for two escapes from prosecutions, which have been called, and perhaps truly, malicious, in the archbishop's court, for setting up a school without subscription to the canons and for not having obtained the bishop's license. He was no less fortunate in his acquaintance with primate Boulter, whose regard for him is proved by the liberality of an endowment in the university of Glasgow.
In 1728, he published his “ Treatise on the Passions,” which at once obtained extensive reputation; and also wrote some papers which were published in a collection, entitled “Hibernicus' Letters" - in these he discussed the subject of laughter in opposition to Hobbes.
In 1729, his reputation had become widely diffused, so that, in his own department of speculative inquiry, he had no rival. He had also a very considerable, though subordinate, character as a successful schoolmaster. The university of Glasgow, justly regarding him as her own, and acting upon that enlightened and liberal economy which has, in the course of time, so raised the intellectual character of Scotland, offered him the high honour of her chair of moral philosophy.
To Hutcheson this was far more than independence and honour; it was peculiarly the vantage-ground for his genius and his tastes. The degree of LL.D. was added; and, as he was preceded by his reputation, disciples from every quarter crowded to drink moral wisdom at the fountain of Glasgow. The popularity of Hutcheson was increased by the combination of zeal with the most expansive benevolence which governed his conduct, and transfused itself into his philosophy. He was unwearied in his endeavours to promote the advancement of every branch of academic acquirement, and especially of the divinity classes.
He enjoyed such good general health, and, seemingly, possessed so good a constitution, that he might well have looked forward to a long period of useful exertion. But he fell a victim to a severe attack of gout in his fifty-third year. He had married soon after settling in Dublin, and had a son, Francis Hutcheson, M.D., who afterwards
published his “System of Moral Philosophy," in three books, Glasgow, 1755.
It would be impossible to enter into a minute and critical examination of the philosophy of Hutcheson, without viewing more fully than would be quite consistent with our general plan, the systems of other writers on moral philosophy. Without this we should commit the injustice of seeming to place to his account the errors which are perhaps inherent in the subject—as they are, at least, common to all by whom it has been treated. We shall, therefore, simply be content to offer a brief general statement of these great fundamental mistakes; after which we shall, with the same brevity, endeavour to offer some estimate of the main tenet of Hutcheson.
The same general tendency to generalize which may be traced in the history of all time and of every part of human knowledge, was developed, in its most vicious form, in the middle ages. We have had frequent occasions to notice its effects on intellectual philosophy. It also had its effects on moral philosophy.
To begin with the simplest principles, and reduce all known phenomena to the most elementary origin, is, accordingly, the uniform endeavour of the casuist; and in this, two great errors have been almost uniformly committed, to an extent almost difficult to believe. First, with regard to abstract principles—they are assumed, or attempted to be fixed at a point anterior to any possible means of ascertaining them -they begin before the beginning of human knowledge. The series of causes, like the golden chain described by Homer, begins in the nature and secret counsels of the Supreme Mind; and if the abstract and elementary principles of justice and virtue, of good and ill, have any existence, it is not to be discerned by the casuist, or found in his perplexed inquiries. The declared law of the Author of all goodness and wisdom, is clear as day-light. The moral and physical constitution of human nature is practically ascertained enough, together with the several laws of conduct, both instituted and conventional, and the various interests which arise from it-so far as they follow from these, the principles of right and wrong, of good and evil, &c., are thoroughly understood: they ask no casuist to define them. And any difficulty worthy of serious attention, will be found in the perplexity of the special case to which these principles may have to be applied as, for instance, when there are various clashing rights or interests to be adjusted. And it is for the clearing of such questions alone, that casuistry is worth anything. The question, therefore, as to the nature and origin of justice, &c., is not the reasonable foundation of this branch of inquiry; not that this origin, or this abstract nature, do not exist, but because we know nothing about them.- To have any value, philosophy must begin with positive law and the reality of things.
Secondly. From this we arrive at the next great source of perplexity among the casuists. Of the last-mentioned principles, the constitution of nature branches into several important derivative principles, in the application of which the most considerable errors and differences arise. Aud it is on these that we should be compelled to digress largely into several statements and estimates of numerous
writers, whom we shall here pass with the summary charge of having respectively adopted some one of several co-ordinate elements, and, by great ingenuity, endeavoured to render it the foundation of their whole system. As this censure is in some degree applicable to all, we shall now at once return to Hutcheson, as offering a very sufficient illustration.
The fundamental principle of Hutcheson's philosophy is benevolence. In this he supposes virtue to consist, and reduces to it all the other virtuous affections of the mind. If the general or etymological sense of this term were to be assumed, it must be allowed that its enlarged comprehension might, without further inquiry, be offered as a term coextensive with all the systems of virtue which have good in any form for their object. But Hutcheson understands the word in its idiomatic sense of good will towards others. It is at once apparent by what species of constructive arguments, the great variety of familiar and explicit motives which bear the general character of virtuous, and have good for their end, must be interpreted, to convert them into results of human benevolence. The general fallacy is, in fact, a con. fusion between the intention and the actual result. It is but a necessary consequence of Hutcheson's principle, that he rejects the error which generally prevailed among the casuists before him: that of resolving all human motives into self-love. There is, indeed, a curious illustration of the little value of human systems, to be derived from the existence of so strange an opposition. The exclusion here mentioned, has not, however, the merit of originating from a clear view of the error, neither does it place the principle on its true grounds. This praise belongs to bishop Butler. In truth, this was rendered unattainable to Hutcheson, by the very principle of his theory. His end of action having sole reference to others, must needs entirely exclude the regard to self in every form. That the reader may more fully understand the nature of this correction of an error, which is not yet quite excluded from opinion—the selfish principle may be thus expressed:—“ We do good to others, because it is in some way pleasurable to ourselves." The answer to this fallacy is to show that it does not explain the simple fact of the pleasurable emotion itself. It assigns a cause which is itself the thing to be explained.
The main practical proof on which Hutcheson relies, is the general sense, that the mixture of any selfish motive takes away from the merit of an action. The fallacy of any inference from this in support of his theory is, however, too palpable to be dwelt on; the theory is evidently taken for granted in the proof : there is also an equivocation implied. It may be admitted, to be sure, that a theory of pure benevolence must be subject to such a deduction-a motive of self-regard must, of course, be an admissible deduction from any profession of pure regard to others. But the allowance can be no further applied Beyond this the argument is resolvable to mere affirmations, and terminates in the definition of a term. The word virtue may be so defined as to exclude prudence, fortitude, self-control, and the disciplined moral sense. But as we have said, the main source of Hutcheson's error consists in not having observed the important distinction between the results of actions and the motives of the action; between affections of the mind and consequences of conduct. In consequence of this fatal oversight, he speaks as if every impulse of the mind must have its foundation in a previous deliberation on the elementary laws of social wellbeing. According to this view, it is plain that all motions must, in some way, terminate in benevolence-from the soldier who wades in blood, to the awful justice which commands and represses the tender impulses of pity to pronounce the dreadful sentence, and condemn the wretch who must die for the public good. Assuredly, if the virtuous motives here supposed to govern, are to be assigned to benevolence, there must be benevolence of very varied and very opposite kinds. In truth, a virtuous action is one which immediately proceeds from a virtuous motive; and the subject is altogether confused and perplexed by the common method of those numerous casuists, who look further than the direct motive, in which not only no confusion could arise, but scarcely a difference. These differences have all arisen from the ingenious quibbling by which any one motive can be deduced from any other. “ Those three systems,” observes Adam Smith, “ that which places virtue in propriety; that which places it in prudence; and that which makes it consist in benevolence, are the three principal accounts which have been given of the nature of virtue. To one or other of them, all the other descriptions of virtue, how different soever they appear, are easily reducible.” Casuists appear to deal in easy virtue. As for us, who do not aspire to the heights of any kind of philosophy, we hold that the good and evil deeds of men are not, in ordinary conduct, the result of any theory of public good, to comprehend which demands a life devoted to unwearied study, with abilities of no low order. The great Creator of man has variously endowed him with affections which are subservient to the design of social life. Of these the workings and immediate moving causes and tendencies are various. So far as they can be called virtue, they are ruled by a disciplined sense of obligation, and by habitual inclination, in conformity with express laws, established conventions, and defined interests. They may well be called beneficent; but they cannot be generically termed benevolent. On the contrary, they have their several private and particular ends, and give rise to actions, habits, and lines of conduct, in which the agent has no sentiment or motive beyond the immediate satisfaction of a desire, the promotion of an interest, or fulfilment of a duty, directly the object of his mind, and without any contemplation of the general principle or the remote end. Of the whole, it is true, there is a general design, based on some elementary principle or principles, but for which these casuists will ever search in vain. The ultimate law may be benevolence-but if so, it is the benevolence of God.
We cannot precisely tell in what abstract obligation consists, nor in what it begins ;-of abstract right and wrong, or abstract virtue, we know nothing. But the first point at which they become the distinct object of human cognizance is a different question. Human obligation begins in certain laws declared or implied. In conformity to these laws, is virtue to be found, and those affections which tend to this conformity are virtuous affections. But an act may be good in its tendency, and such as the most heroic virtue would dictate, and yet be not only not