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Title: Four Phases of Morals: Socrates, Aristotle, Christianity, Utilitarianism
Author: Blackie, John Stuart
Language: English
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 FOUR PHASES OF MORALS

 SOCRATES, ARISTOTLE,
 CHRISTIANITY, UTILITARIANISM.


 BY
 JOHN STUART BLACKIE, F.R.S.E.
 PROFESSOR OF GREEK IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH

 SECOND EDITION.

 EDINBURGH
 EDMONSTON AND DOUGLAS
 1874.



 TO
 SIR HENRY HOLLAND, BART.,

 M.D., D.C.L.,

 PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL INSTITUTION OP GREAT
 BRITAIN, ETC. ETC.


DEAR SIR,--As the substance of this book was originally delivered in
the form of Lectures before the Royal Institution, London, I was
naturally led, in giving my notes a more exact expression and a larger
illustration, to do so in connexion with your name--a name which,
besides its official significance in all that concerns the Albemarle
Street Institution, was recommended to me by that remarkable
combination of rare experience of life, enlightened scholarship, and
various knowledge of men and places, which, more than the greatest
metaphysical acuteness, or the most extensive academical learning,
enables a man to be a sound judge of those important practical
questions with which the science of Ethics is occupied. As by the
arrangements of the season--1869--of which my course formed a part,
the number of Lectures was limited to four, and as I determined to
treat the subject in the concrete historically, rather than in the
form of abstract discussion, it necessarily happened that the four
phases of morals to which I specially directed attention, viewed in
reference to the whole system of ethical doctrine, presented an
incomplete and fragmentary aspect. I endeavoured however, under these
limitations, to bring forward those historical manifestations of moral
truth which both afforded a ready occasion for discussing some of the
most fundamental questions of Ethics, and, from historical and local
considerations, were most fitted to be presented to a British audience
at the present day. At the same time, there runs through the four
discourses a unity of thought and tendency beyond what the title
indicates, and which those who are competent to judge will easily
recognise. Hoping that you will find nothing in this book but what has
been “attained with honesty, and maintained with moderation”--the
test of excellence in such matters which yourself have wisely
indicated,--and that you may be able to accord to these Discourses in
their written form some portion of that approbation which your
presence conferred on their oral delivery,

          I am,
            DEAR SIR,
              Yours, with sincere esteem,
                JOHN STUART BLACKIE.

 UNIVERSITY, EDINBURGH,
   _October_ 1871.



CONTENTS.

 SOCRATES
 ARISTOTLE
 CHRISTIANITY
 UTILITARIANISM



SOCRATES.

{1}

AS there is no country which can boast the honour of possessing more
names of a world-wide significance than Greece, so among those who
hold this lofty position there is no name superior to Socrates,
concerning whom the Delphic oracle in ancient times, and a great
utilitarian authority in modern times, agree in testifying that he was
the wisest of the wise Greeks.[1.1] And though stout old Cato, in
ancient times, as Plutarch informs us, gruffly enough expressed his
opinion that the son of Sophroniscus was a pernicious old babbler,
whose breath was justly stopped by the cup of hemlock which he drank
for his last supper--in harmony with whom the benign old dogmatist
whom the modern utilitarians revere as their patriarch declares that
Socrates and Plato wasted their lives in talking nonsense under the
pretence of teaching philosophy,[1.2]--yet these negative utterances,
few and far between, against the fair fame of the father of moral
science, have died away almost as quickly as uttered, and are now no
more heard in the grand organ-swell of the general admiration of more
than two thousand years. {2} Unquestionably if there be any name,
after the great Founder of the Christian faith, which is entitled to
claim the title of a preacher of righteousness for all times and all
places, it is the name of Socrates; and it is with the view of
bringing his high merits in tins respect before the general public, in
as easy a way as is consistent with scholarly accuracy, that I have
undertaken to write the present paper.

The subject is one peculiarly attractive to a thinking man, not only
on its own merits, but because of the ample and thoroughly trustworthy
materials which we possess for forming a correct judgment. We are not
here, as in the case of Pythagoras, sent to fish for fragments of
truth among fanciful writers who lived several hundred years after the
death of the object of their transcendental laudations; but, as in the
gospel history, we have to deal with the intimate disciples and daily
companions of the great hero of the story. We gather our knowledge of
the life and philosophy of Socrates from Xenophon and Plato, both of
whom have reported their intercourse with the philosopher in a tone of
mingled admiration and sobriety which leaves no ground for suspicion.
Only with regard to Plato we must take with us this caution, that he
was both a poet by temperament and by mental habit a system-builder;
and, as he chose to set forth his own speculations in a series of
dramatic dialogues wherein Socrates is the chief speaker, we must
beware of accepting, as standing on one common basis, the facts with
regard to the life of Socrates brought forward in these compositions
and the doctrines which are put into his mouth. With regard to the
former, we may accept Plato’s evidence as a contemporary authority
with the {3} utmost confidence; with regard to the latter, we must be
constantly on our guard; and indeed, according to my view, it is wise
never to accept any statement of Socrates’s doctrine from Plato, of
which the germ at least does not lie plainly in Xenophon. For
Xenophon, just because he was a less original man than Plato, a
pleasing and graceful writer, somewhat on the level of our Addison,
was for that reason free from the temptation, or rather had not the
capacity, to interpolate anything into his account of the philosopher
which was not consistent with the actual fact. He was a plain man,
with no theories to support, and no pretensions to maintain; and as a
faithful contemporary recorder of what he heard and saw, a more
capable and trustworthy witness could not be desired. We shall
therefore draw our sketch of the life and sayings of the great
Athenian preacher mainly from his pleasant little book, introducing
the idealist of the Academy only where he cannot be suspected of using
his revered master as a mere dramatic engine, or where his superior
literary powers have enabled him to paint a more effective picture.

The age of Socrates was the age of Pericles, the culminating epoch of
Athenian glory; he was contemporary with Euripides, Sophocles,
Herodotus, Thucydides, Hippocrates, Democritus, Anaxagoras,
Aristophanes, Phidias; but, while he shared all the elevating
influences of this ascendant age, growing with its growth and
blossoming with its blossom, he was not spared the sorrow of quitting
the scene beneath the first dark shadows of its decay. That military
ambition which is as much the besetting sin of democracy as of
autocracy, had precipitated the Athenians, during the latter part of
the fifth century {4} before Christ, into a distant expedition which
crippled their energies and exhausted their resources; all this, and
certain violent revolutionary changes which arose out of it, Socrates
had to live through, till at last, a few years before his death, he
saw the pride of Periclean Athens laid prostrate at the feet of
Lysander and the rude oligarchy of Lacedæmon. He was born in the year
469 B.C., eleven years after the naval battle of Salamis which freed
Europe for ever from the apprehension of Asiatic servitude, exactly at
the time when the brilliant but sober policy of Pericles commenced its
long period of happy sway over the fortunes of the Athenian state. At
this time Simonides and the other great poets who had seen and sung
the glorious victories of Marathon and Salamis were swiftly departing
from the scene; but the memory of those patriotic achievements still
burned vigorously in every Athenian breast, and conspired, with the
birth of new and ambitious intellectual aspirations, to surround the
youth of the philosopher with an atmosphere the most favourable to
social and intellectual progress. The importance which the
achievements of the democracy at Marathon and Salamis gave to the
middle and lower classes of society at Athens, broke down the barriers
which ancient aristocratic exclusiveness might have raised against the
pretensions of mere character without position; so that Socrates,
though the son of a stone-cutter, and not, like Plato, drawing his
blood from the old Attic aristocracy, seems to have found free
entrance into the society of the most distinguished public and
literary men of his age. His mother, as he himself took care to inform
the world, was a “right worthy and worshipful {5} μαῖα,” or
lady-obstetrician; a “wise woman,” as the French say, in matters
where it seems most natural that women should be specially wise; her
name was Phænarete; but in social position, according to our
aristocratic way of talking, she was nobody. What Socrates’s own
profession was, or how he supported himself, a very important point in
the history of all public men, we unfortunately do not know exactly;
that he practised stone-cutting in his early years is not improbable;
and this may have given rise to the belief mentioned by Pausanias,
that a group of the Graces at the entrance of the Propylæa was his
work; but there is not the slightest indication either in Xenophon or
Plato that he continued to practise this art, or any other art, in
after life. He had therefore no profession; and, as he made no money
by his philosophy, we must believe that he had been left some small
competence by his father, or some relation, on which he was content to
live. That he was extremely poor we know, both from Xenophon and from
his own account of himself before the jury at his trial. We know also
that his habits of life were remarkably plain and frugal, that he
required little money, and coveted none. That he was in a position to
have made money if he had chosen there can be no doubt; but he
expressly states that he had relinquished all projects for increasing
his income, in order that he might devote himself without distraction
to the great work of his life. However, with his philosophical notions
about mere external grandeur, he seems to have been rich enough to
live comfortably with a wife and family. This wife was the noted
Xanthippe, not always the most pleasant companion, and, perhaps not
altogether {6} without reason, from her point of view, at variance
with a husband who showed such utter indifference to worldly
aggrandizement and domestic display; but for this touch of sharpness
in the temper only, as he argued, the better fitted to be the wife of
a philosopher, or to make a philosopher of her husband; for, as men
who wish to learn to ride do not choose the meekest and most docile
beast that they can find, but the most spirited, so the husband who
wishes to rule a wife well should have such an one as it is not easy
but difficult to control. This character of the philosopher’s wife
rests on the authority of Xenophon; Plato nowhere alludes to it; and
whatever her temper might have been, Socrates certainly did not
consider it so bad as to justify his sons in withholding from her the
usual love and reverence due from children to their parents; for
“you may be sure,” he said, “if she is a little cross sometimes,
it is for your good; and there is a reason in her objurgations which a
wise son ought to acknowledge.”

Having no special occupation or profession in life, Socrates might
perhaps have passed in Athens for an idle man, a lounger about the
streets, and public talker, had there not sprung up about this time a
class of men professing to be teachers of eloquence and of all wisdom,
with whom he was brought into connexion. These were the Sophists, a
name which means nothing more than professors or teachers of wisdom.
Like these men, Socrates was always seen in the streets and public
places of Athens, conversing with the clever young men, and publicly
debating all points of speculative and practical interest. He was
therefore in outward appearance and to the {7} general eye a mere
Sophist among Sophists. For it is not everybody who cares to know that
two men who fight with the same weapons and in the same style of fence
may be fighting for very different causes, on opposite sides, and with
altogether contrary results. But the truth behind the appearance was,
that while the majority of these Sophists taught eloquence as a trade,
and logical training as an affair of intellectual exhibition, Socrates
preached virtue as a mission, and the exercise of right reason as the
only means of obtaining virtue. We say _mission_ here not as a
fashionable phrase of the day, but with a special emphasis; for it is
quite certain, both from the speech of the philosopher at his trial,
and from not a few passages in Xenophon, that he devoted his life to
self-improvement in the first place, and to the improvement of his
fellow-citizens in the second place, with the conscientious
devotedness of a man who was strongly impressed with the conviction,
that this employment was assigned to him direct from God, whose high
injunction he was not at liberty to neglect. His language with regard
to this is in a precisely similar tone to that of St. Paul when he
writes, “_Woe is me if I preach not the gospel_.” The human source
through which he got this mission some writers have been curious to
trace, alleging that his master was Anaxagoras, and other things to
that effect; but there is no hint of this either in Xenophon or Plato;
and in fact it is foolish to go in search of a master for a man so
thoroughly original, so distinct and decided a protester against all
who had gone before him. We may be assured, at least, that in the
moral philosophy which was the burden of all his teaching, he had no
master but {8} himself (as indeed Xenophon makes him say in express
words) and the God to whom he habitually referred his highest
inspirations; while in regard to other matters he had enjoyed the
common training of all Athenians in music, poetry, gymnastics, and a
little mathematics to boot--a science which, since the days of Thales
(600 B.C.) and Pythagoras (550 B.C.), had occupied a conspicuous place
in the higher culture of the Athenians. Of the exact date when he
assumed a prominent position as a public teacher of wisdom and virtue
we have no exact account; it is natural however to suppose, from the
sobriety and solidity of his character, and from the long-continued
quiet search after truth which occupied him in his early years, that
he did not suddenly emerge into notoriety, but grew up step by step
into that general acknowledgment of superior wisdom, on which,
according to a well-accredited account, the Delphic oracle was not
afraid to put its seal. Certain it is that in the year 423 B.C., when
he was about forty-seven years of age, he was such a notable character
in Athens as to have been brought upon the stage by the broad license
of Attic comedy as the representative of the whole class of Sophists,
with whom, by the superficial eye, he was naturally confounded. We
must suppose therefore that his reputation as a great public talker
and debater had been gradually growing, up to that period. And no
doubt, even if he had been a man of less original talent, there was
something about his personal appearance and character that could not
fail to make him the mark of general observation among the busy-idle
community of Athens. He was no less odd in his features and in his
manner than in his doctrines; an ἄτοπος or {9} eccentric person
In the general opinion, whom no man knew exactly what to make of. His
features, the very reverse of classical, are familiar to all the
frequenters of our public museums; and are, besides, minutely
described by both his illustrious disciples. His general appearance
was that of a Silenus or Satyr, with a flat, somewhat turned-up, nose,
full prominent eyes, big lips, and in later life, as appears from the
monuments, a bald head; but these defects were of no avail, even with
the beauty-loving Athenians, to diminish the charm of his conversation
and the power of his address. For, as Alcibiades says in the Platonic
dialogue, where he is one of the chief speakers, he was a Satyr only
externally, but internally full of wonderful shapes and sights of
gods, like certain hollow figures full of pipes and tubes, seen in the
statuaries’ shops, which outwardly were shaped like Sileni, but
within contained a machinery of beautiful sacred images. So, as is
wont to happen to wise men, his loss became his gain, and his uncomely
physiognomy, to all that entered into conversation with him, was the
cause of an agreeable surprise. Very different in this from a great
modern poet, who was sensitive about his club-foot, the Athenian
philosopher made a jest of his unclassical nose, saying that if noses
were to be valued as they ought to be, by their fitness for performing
the proper functions of a nose, his olfactory organ was better than
those noses whose shape was vulgarly accounted more classical; for the
upward cast of his open nostrils made them more ready to receive
smells from all quarters, while the comparative flatness of his nasal
protuberance removed it from the possibility of interfering with the
free {10} vision of his eyes; and as to the prominency of these his
organs of vision, this was a manifest excellence even more than the
conformation of his nose, inasmuch as it enabled him to look, not only
straight before him in the way that most eyes do, bat sideways also,
and almost all round, so that he could see when no one suspected him
of looking at them.

But it was not only his general oddity, his pleasant humour, and his
wisdom seasoned with salt that made him a noticeable man amid the
brilliant society of Athens: he was moreover a thoroughly healthy man,
of great powers of endurance, a valiant soldier when his country
required his services, and a good bottle-companion when piety towards
Dionysus, or any occasion of social festivity, according to Attic
usage, demanded that men should drink largely. On these points we have
a graphic picture put by Plato into the mouth of Alcibiades, which, to
complete our personal portrait here, it will not be amiss to
translate.

“When we were together in the campaign at Potidæa, and I messed
with him every day, I found that in the power of enduring toil he
surpassed not only me but all the soldiers in the camp. For when, as
sometimes will happen on the march, we might be at a loss for a
dinner, Socrates could always fast with the least complaint; while, on
the other hand, at our banquetings and junketings he always enjoyed
everything in the most hearty way; and when he was forced to drink,
even though not willingly, he could drain cup for cup with the
stoutest bottle-companion in the camp; and, what is strangest of all,
even after our stiffest bouts no one ever saw Socrates drunk. And as
to cold and frost, I remember {11} well, one night in one of those
severe Macedonian winters, when there was a very biting frost, and
every man either stayed within or went out well encased in warm
sheepskin jackets and felt shoes, Socrates alone went about in the
open air with no other covering than his common mantle, and trod the
frosted ground with his bare feet more lightly than others did with
their warm shoes. But I must tell you something more notable of his
doings at Potidæa. One morning he went out early to indulge some
contemplations; but not succeeding, as it would appear, in his object,
whatever that might be, he remained standing and looking right out
before him till it was near mid-day; and then the soldiers began to
notice him, and said one to another that Socrates had been standing
there in a brown study from sunrise. Thereafter some of the Ionians
about the evening, after supper, took their quilts and carpets out,
for it was then mild summer weather, and, shaking them on the ground,
slept in the open air, keeping an eye at the same time on Socrates to
see whether he would remain all night standing in that reverie; and
when they awoke in the morning with the sun, lo! Socrates was standing
in the same spot; and, after saying a prayer to the sun, shortly
retired. So much for his contemplative oddities; but it is only fair
that I should tell you how he was as good a soldier as a sophist, and
could achieve no less notable things with his hand than with his head.
For when the battle took place, for my conduct in which the generals
gave me such honourable marks of distinction, I, who knew the real
state of the case, insisted that if any man had distinguished himself
in the fight it was Socrates, to whom on that occasion {12} I should
willingly resign the intended laurels. But though this was quite true,
the judges were inclined to favour me; and Socrates came forward and
asserted with the greatest emphasis that my claims were superior to
his; and so I carried off the reward of valour which none but he could
with perfect justice claim. Then again when we retreated from Delium,
after the defeat I was riding off on horseback, while Socrates and
Laches followed, as hoplites, on foot, and coming up to them I cried,
Fear not, good friends, I will keep alongside of you and defend you
from the pursuit. On that occasion I admired even more than at
Potidæa the conduct of this man; for while both were in danger of
being overtaken it was manifest that Socrates during the whole retreat
displayed far more coolness than Laches, who was by profession a
soldier. ... Instead of hurry and trepidation we saw in him only the
large full eye that with wise wariness turned to this side and to that
in a fashion that seemed to say to all comers that they would find a
steady nerve if they came within sword’s length of him. And thus he
got out of the rush safely; for so I have always observed that in a
retreat the men who are most afraid always fare the worst. And many
other things there are I might relate, which would show clearly what a
strange and truly admirable creature this Socrates is. Individual
persons, behaving in individual cases as excellently as Socrates, it
might be easy to point out; but such a compound, a thing in the shape
of a man so utterly unlike any other man, you will find nowhere,
either among famous ancients op illustrious moderns. One might make an
adequate portraiture of Achilles, or Brasidas, of Pericles, or {13}
Nestor, or Antenor, and other famous characters; but such a unique
mortal as this son of Sophroniscus no man can describe, unless,
indeed, he chooses to steal my simile, and say that he is a Silenus
superficially, both in his appearance and in his talk, but to those
who look deeper his soul is a shrine of most excellent, beautiful, and
worshipful divinities.”

This passage will make it plain that Socrates was no mere idle
speculator or subtle talker, such as might be found in ancient Athens
or in any modern German university by scores--but a practical man, and
an effective citizen of prominent merit. But if he showed courage in
the field of battle not inferior to the stoutest and coolest
professional soldier, he displayed a civic virtue on other occasions,
which only the fewest on all occasions have been able to exhibit. This
virtue was moral courage; a quality which, when exercised in critical
circumstances, raises a man high above the average of his kind,
whereas with mere physical courage he is only a more cool and
calculating rival of dogs and cocks and tigers, and other ferine
combatants. On that memorable occasion, when the whole of Athens was
fretted into a fever-fit of indignation on account of the neglect of
the dead and dying slain by the victors at Arginusæ (B.C. 406), and
in the torrent of what appeared to them most righteous wrath, were
eager to overbear all the customary forms of fair judicial trial,
Socrates happened to be serving as one of the senators whose duty it
was to put the question to the assembly of the people in the case of
great public trials; and, a motion having been made that the generals
who were guilty of the alleged neglect of pious duty should be
condemned to drink the hemlock, and have their property {14}
confiscated, it fell to the senators to perform the preparatory step
in the prosecution. But as the proceedings in the case had been
dictated by violent excitement, and were decidedly illegal, Socrates
refused, in the face of violent popular clamour, to have anything to
do with the matter, and lifted up his single protest--one amongst
fifty--against violating the sacred forms of law at the dictation of
an excited populace. On this, as on other similar occasions when he
came into collision with the public authorities, he maintained a truly
apostolic bearing, using in almost identical terms the language of the
apostles Peter and John, when they were forbidden to preach by the
Sanhedrim: “_Whether it be right in the sight of the gods to hearken
unto you rather than to the gods, judge ye; but as for me, I have
sworn to obey the laws, and I cannot forswear myself_.”

With all this faithfulness, however, in the public service, Socrates
was very far from wishing to be what we call a public man; on the
contrary, he kept himself systematically out of places which were
eagerly coveted by less able men, and refused to have anything to do
with the party politics of the day. This withdrawal from the service
of the State, to the majority of Greeks, with whom the State was
everything, could not but appear strange, and tend to increase their
prejudice against philosophy and philosophers. But Socrates acted
here, as in all other matters, with admirable good sense; he felt that
to be a politician and a preacher of righteousness was to combine two
vocations practically incompatible; for the popular measure which it
might serve the immediate need of the political man to advocate it
might not seldom be the first duty of {15} the moralist to condemn.
Besides, if he took office with men who habitually acted on principles
of which he could not but disapprove, he would be forced to waste his
strength in a fruitless opposition to measures which he could not
prevent; and in this way it came to pass that, while he utterly
disapproved, in the general case, of a good citizen, whether from the
love of selfish ease, or from false modesty, or from moral cowardice,
refusing to take part in public life, in his own particular work he
felt that political activity would be a hindrance, and that it was his
duty to abstain.

In these few paragraphs are summed up all that from indisputable
authority we know of the personal history of the greatest of heathen
preachers. The circumstances connected with his death are too closely
interwoven with the character of his teaching to be intelligible here.
We shall therefore enter now directly into a short exposition of his
ethical teaching; after which we shall be in a condition to consider
with an intelligent astonishment how it came to pass that the preacher
of the noblest doctrine that Athens ever heard, before the preaching
of Paul on the Hill of Mars, after living in high repute and
popularity for seventy years, should at last have been made to quit
the scene of his moral triumphs, publicly branded with the stigma
which was wont to be attached to the lowest of malefactors and the
vilest of traitors.

The two first questions to be asked with regard to any great moral or
political reformer are--What had he to reform? and then, In the work
of reform who were his antagonists? The first of these questions is
answered intelligibly and plainly enough in {16} the current knowledge
of every schoolboy, that Socrates brought down philosophy from heaven
to earth, or, as Cicero has it more fully in the Tusculan questions,
“_Socrates primus philosophiam devocavit e cœlo, et in urbibus
collocavit, et in domos etiam introduxit, et coegit de vitâ et
moribus, rebusque bonis et mails quœrere_.” Now there cannot be any
doubt that, both relatively to the time and place where he taught, and
absolutely for all times and all places, Socrates by this step did one
of the highest services to human progress. By a natural vice of the
human imagination we are led to seek in the misty distance for some
pleasant excitement to thought, while neglecting the direct lessons of
familiar wisdom from things under our eyes, which appear contemptible
only because they are common. We attempt ambitiously to measure the
remote movement of the spheres, and to note their imagined music,
before we have brought any order or harmony into the daily course of
our own lives; we climb all the highest mountains in Europe for a fine
prospect, when there is likely a much better one to be enjoyed not
five miles from our own door. In obedience to this tendency of the
human mind the early philosophy of Greece was occupied principally
(not altogether certainly, for Pythagoras was a great moralist) with
cosmical and metaphysical speculations which amused the fancy and
raised interesting and puzzling problems for thought, without any
valuable practical result. When Thales, for one, said that the first
principle of all things was water, he enunciated a great truth; it is
true that wherever there is life there must be humidity; with dryness
dwells only dust and death and frost. But this was a truth {17}
leading to no applications; it could neither purify the wells nor
improve the wines; no man would be the better in his body or his soul
for formulating a cosmical generality of this kind. And if Heraclitus,
the sombre sage of Ephesus, advanced a step further in a true
generalization, when he said that fire or heat is the fundamental
force which makes water possible, as modern chemistry has amply
demonstrated, this doctrine did not advance human nature one step
either towards outward comfort or inward satisfaction. And of what
avail was it to tell men, as he did, that “all things are in a
perpetual flux,” if he did not teach them how to regulate that flux
in the flow of their own lives, and to prevent the tidal currents of
their soul from getting into a plash and jabble of conflicting waters
in the navigation of which no seamancraft could avail against
miserable shipwreck? More useless still was it to assert, as
Anaxagoras is reported to have done, that the sun is a large mass of
glowing stone or metal, so many times bigger than the earth--a
proposition which, if it were true, would not teach a poor cowering
savage to kindle a stick fire, nor make one olive-tree brighter with
blossoms that promised a purer and a richer oil; while, if it were not
true, then the whole of your lofty heliacal philosophy is only a blaze
of lies. The whole history of modern science, indeed, before the
establishment of the close and cautious method of experiment
introduced by Bacon, shows that all physical inquiry starting from
unproved assumptions, and ending in sweeping speculations, is only a
sublime sort of idleness, and a procreation of cloud-phantoms.
Socrates therefore acted wisely for his own time and place in saying
to a people fond of {18} curious subtlety and unfruitful speculation.
Let us have done with this lofty-sounding but essentially hollow talk
about sun and moon and stars, and let us know something certain, and
do something useful. This we shall achieve if we keep within our own
lower sphere, and attend to our own work as men; let us order our
houses well in the first place, and after that concern ourselves with
the order of the universe; if, indeed, this does not rather belong to
the gods, who may safely be left to do their cosmical work quietly,
without any Anaxagoras or Archelaus to tempt with adventurous guesses
the principles of their administration. Such was the thoroughly
practical, and, if you will, thoroughly utilitarian tone which, taught
by Xenophon, we justly view as the starting-point of the Socratic
philosophy. And there can be no doubt man is so essentially a
practical animal, that if even the accurate and curiously verified
physical science of these latter days were as destitute of social
applications and as barren of practical results as Greek science was
in the days of Socrates, nine hundred and ninety-nine persons of those
who now delight to dabble in chemistry and geology would leave these
interesting sciences to the few men of a purely speculative character
with whom mere knowledge is loved for itself. But when by geology we
are enabled to unearth coals and gold, and know where to sink wells
much more certainly than by the mediæval magic of the divining-rod;
and when by chemistry we improve our stores, bleach our clothes,
purify our infected chambers, and dye our cloth with hues of which
even the most skilful of the lichen-gatherers in the Highland glens
never dreamt--then, to use a bookseller’s phrase, you are {19} sure
to interest a large public. But there is another view of the case,
which places the Socratic philosopher on a much more lofty and
honourable pedestal. For notwithstanding all the surprising
discoveries and brilliant achievements of modern physical science, it
must still remain true that

 “The proper study of mankind is man,”

and that no kind of knowledge ever can surpass either in interest or
importance the knowledge of man as a social being, as the member of a
Family, of a Church, and of a State. The depreciation of moral science
which we have lately heard from Mr. Buckle and other members of that
school is a transitional phenomenon arising out of the one-sided
culture of the understanding, and a defective emotional, volitional,
and imaginative organization. If new discoveries are not every day
trumpeted in the domain of moral philosophy, it is just because this
science, like Euclid, is too certain, too fundamental, and too
indispensable to have been left to the happy chance of being found out
after the lapse of long centuries. Morals are as necessary to the
acting man as the sun’s light to the growing plant; they are not
discovered, because they always have been and always must be; and the
only great result that we have to look for then in them is that they
shall be more universally recognised, more scientifically handled, and
more practically applied. Socrates therefore was right, not only for
Greece in the fifth century before Christ, but for England at the
present moment, and for all times and places, when he proclaimed on
the house-tops that the first and most necessary wisdom for all men is
not to measure the stars, or {20} to weigh the dust, or to analyse the
air, but, according to the old Delphic sentence, to know themselves,
and to realize in all the breadth and depth of its significance what
it is to be a man, and not a pig or a god. And in attaining this
knowledge, while he would certainly find that, though a stable
physical platform to stand on and a healthy physical atmosphere to
breathe are necessary for the production of a normal humanity, yet in
general the measure of a man’s manhood is to be taken not so much
from what he attaches to himself from without as from what he brings
with him from within.

“The kingdom of heaven is within you” is a pregnant Socratic maxim
as well as a profound evangelic text, and, in reference to our present
subject, simply means that, while the most brilliant discoveries of
physical science only minister to our comforts, our conveniences, and
our furnishings, moral science alone can teach us to be men; for we
are men by what we are, not by what we have. Gas-pipes, and
water-pipes, spinning-jennies, steamboats, steam-coaches, submarine
telegraphs, photographs, oleographs, oxyhydrogen, blowpipes, and the
thousand and one devices for using and controlling nature which we owe
to advanced physical science, may adorn and improve life in many ways,
may multiply production of all kinds infinitely, and facilitate the
diffusion of intellectual as well as material benefits; but they have
no originating power in what is highest; they can create neither
thought nor character; they are the most useful of ministers, but the
most unmeaning of masters. And there can be little doubt that, if
Socrates were to rise from the grave at the present moment, while,
with his, strong {21} common sense and keen eye for the practical, he
would joyfully recognise all the wonderful material progress of which
England and America make their boast, he would not the less feel
himself constrained to utter an emphatic warning against the danger of
estimating our national grandeur by the visible pomp of gigantic
machinery and complex apparatus rather than by the invisible power of
noble purpose and lofty design.

Such was the attitude of Socrates to the great teachers who since
Thales downwards had preceded him in leading the intellectual advance
of the most intellectual people of the ancient world. He stood forward
as a teacher of moral science, as a preacher and philosophical
missionary also; for in morals, the separation of theory from practice
is an inconsistency of which only a feeble and imperfect nature is
capable. Who, then, and of what quality, were his antagonists in the
great regenerative work which he undertook? Not so much the physical
philosophers, who might still pursue their researches or pamper their
imaginations in their own speculative corners without disturbing the
busy world, except in so far as they now and then might come into
collision with theological orthodoxy, but the great untrained mass of
the people themselves, and the pretentious array of a class of men who
put themselves forward as their instructors,--the famous SOPHISTS.
The word Sophists signifies professors of wisdom, in which sense
Lucian calls our Saviour τὸν ἀνεσκολοπισμένον ἐκεῖνον σοφιστήν--_that
crucified Sophist_--because He came forward as a public instructor
professing to teach men wisdom. But as wisdom is a vague word (in fact
σοφός in Greek signifies _clever_, and even {22} _cunning_ as
often as _wise_), we must consult the circumstances of time and place
to know what it exactly meant in any particular instance. The
generation immediately preceding Socrates, when the Sophists first
became prominent, was the era of the great Persian wars, and of the
notable uprising of national spirit and of popular power which that
memorable struggle called forth. How fiercely the strife between the
old aristocratic and the new democratic element in Greek society had
been raging in the immediately preceding epoch, the poems of Theognis
may serve sufficiently to indicate; and now that by the battle of
Salamis the political importance of the middle and sub-middle classes
had been blazoned forth before universal Greece in glowing characters,
the democracy in great commercial cities like Athens at once started
into an attitude of hitherto unsuspected significance. New aspirations
had been created, new pretensions were put forth, and new guides were
required for a large class of people who felt themselves as it were
suddenly shooting up from pupilage into majority. Now what guides had
a people, circumstanced as the Athenians then, were, to look to for
direction? The Church in those days--if we may call it a Church--was
not a teaching body; its moral efficacy was exercised through sacred
ceremonial and pious hymns; its intellectual agency was almost null.
And though gymnastics and music, including a certain amount of the
most popular literary culture, were common, there were no institutions
like our Universities, for the severe and systematic discipline of the
thinking faculties. A cry went up from the heart of the people for
prophets to enlighten them; but there were no schools {23} of the
prophets. This state of things was the natural soil from which a class
of self-constituted popular teachers would grow up; and these teachers
were the Sophists. And if we ask further in detail what they taught,
the answer will be furnished from the same sources that explain their
existence. As the democracy brought them into existence, the demand of
the democracy would be the measure of the kind and quality of the
article which they were expected to supply; and the article which a
democracy demands for the use of its public spokesmen is always the
same,--a certain practical knowledge and shrewdness in the conduct of
affairs, a certain ready sympathy with, popular prejudices and
passions, a certain superficial dexterity in argument, and above all,
a fluent and effective style of popular oratory. To supply these wants
the acceptable teachers of the people would require to profess a
knowledge of the great leading principles of law, a familiarity with
political forms and the best methods of controlling masses of men into
habits or fits of co-operation, a practical command of logic, so as to
be able to turn the point of an argument, or entangle in a net of
subtleties an inexperienced jury, and, as the crowning accomplishment,
a faculty of speech, alert and unscrupulous, which might never lack a
shift to give plausibility to a bad case, and should ever be ready to
confound, overwhelm, and dazzle where it was hopeless to refute. Now
it is easy to perceive that the lessons delivered by the professors of
this wisdom, however acceptable to clever and ambitious young
gentlemen eager to enter upon the arena of public life, could not, in
the nature of the case, be conceived in any very exalted tone of
morals or be framed so as to inculcate the formation {24} of any
strictly honourable rules of conduct. The Sophists were mere
tradesmen; they were paid for the furnishing of a certain article, and
they had to supply that article, of the quality and in the way and
manner which might be most agreeable to those on whose patronage they
depended. They were therefore, as Socrates constantly pointed out, the
slaves of the parties by whom they were paid; and if what their
employers wanted was the show of wisdom rather than the substance, a
ready command of words and arguments in preference to an earnest and
severe search after truth, it was not to be expected that the majority
of them would give themselves much concern to inculcate a severer
wisdom. Tradesmen are seldom found acting upon principles which have a
direct tendency to frighten customers from their shops. Not that there
was anything necessarily bad or immoral in the profession or teaching
of a Sophist; some of them, evidently, such as Protagoras and
Prodicus, even on the witness of their great adversary Plato, were
very proper and respectable gentlemen; few of them, perhaps, grossly
immoral; and with those of them who, like Gorgias of Leontium,
confined themselves strictly to the teaching of the rules of pure
rhetoric and elocution, no fault could justly be found any more than
with Quinctilian among the later Romans, or Principal Campbell of
Aberdeen among ourselves. But it is plain, from the very nature of the
case, that the Sophists, so far as they went a step beyond the
province of strict rhetoric, were placed in a position which rendered
their moral and philosophical teaching a matter of just concern to all
who were interested in the education of the youth of Athens, and in
the {25} character of her public men. Besides, among an impressible
and excitable people like the Athenians, fond of display, and
ambitious of popularity, the mere methodized art of talking, apart
from any solid knowledge, and without any high moral inspiration, was
a very dangerous engine to put into the hand of ambitious young
politicians. And the fact unquestionably is, according to the
concurrent testimony of Xenophon, Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle,--in
fact, of all antiquity,--that these public teachers generally did
dispense very shallow and often very dangerous doctrine. They were the
natural birth of an age of movement and innovation; and in such an
age, along with much that may operate as a healthy stimulant to
progressive thought, there is always present a drastic admixture of
the merely analytic, sceptical, and destructive element, a negative
force, strong to impugn the validity of ancient foundations, but weak
to establish anything equally stable and effective in their place. By
the negative and sceptical teachings of these men, Socrates found the
youth of Athens shaken from their old moorings, and tossing about amid
seas of perplexing doubt on the one hand, and unprincipled libertinism
on the other. Every great principle of social order and human right
that formerly had been received from venerated tradition, and believed
by the co-operation of a healthy instinct with a hoary authority, was
now denied; and the field was waiting for the appearance of a great
constructive prophet, who should bring people back through steps of
scientific reasoning to a living faith in those maxims of immutable
morality which they had originally inherited with the blood from their
fathers’ veins and the milk from their mothers’ breasts. {26} Such
a great prophet now appeared, and his name was Socrates.[26.1]

We have now clearly before us the battle-field in which Socrates had
to appear, and the opponents with whom he had to contend; we see also
the cause for which he had to fight. This was nothing {27} less than
the establishment of a firm philosophy of human life, a sure guide for
human conduct, and a strong regulator of society. The way now lies
open to inquire what special doctrine he taught in order to achieve
victory in this struggle; and a careful perusal of Xenophon’s book,
which we regard as the {28} only safe authority in the matter, leads
to a generalized statement of the Socratic moral philosophy, comprised
in the following two propositions:--

(I.) Man is naturally a sympathetic and a social animal. He has, no
doubt, strong, self-preserving, self-asserting, and self-advancing
instincts, which, if left without counteraction, would naturally lead
to isolation or mutual hostility, and ultimate extermination; but
these instincts of isolated individualism are met by yet stronger
instincts of sympathy, love, and fellowship, in the ascendency of
which the true humanity of man as distinguished from tigerhood and
spiderhood consists.

(II.) Man is naturally a reasoning animal, and is only then truly a
man when his passions are tempered and his conduct regulated by
reason. The function of reason is the recognition and the realization
of truth; truth recognised in speculation is science; {29} truth
realized in action is a moral life and a well-ordered society.

These two propositions may appear to many persons now-a-days to
contain nothing that is not very vague and very cheap; nevertheless,
when looked into accurately and followed out unconditionally, they
lead to most important practical consequences; in fact, while their
consistent assertion under all circumstances necessarily leads up to a
noble and a heroic life, their habitual denial as necessarily leads
down to a base and a brutish life. Let us look at them therefore
sharply in detail.

The first proposition, as the reader will readily perceive, is
levelled directly against the selfish theory of morals which was
advocated with more or less openness by many of the Greek Sophists,
and was prominently put forth in this country, as is generally known,
at the time of the great Civil War, by the celebrated Thomas Hobbes of
Malmesbury. That stout speculator, in his treatise on “the
Philosophical Elements of a True Citizen,” lays it down with a
distinctness which admits of no qualification, that “all society is
either for gain or for glory; that is, not so much for love of our
fellows as for love of ourselves;” and again, a few pages further on
in the same treatise, he puts forth the famous dictum that “the
natural state of man is a war of all men against all men.” Against
such a one-sided, unhuman, unworthy, and altogether false assertion,
Socrates comes armed, not only with the whole force of a sympathetic,
a social, and a benevolent nature, but with that healthy instinct and
practical good sense, which in him was prophetic not so much of his
immediate disciple Plato as of his great successor Aristotle. {30} In
one of the conversations of the _Memorabilia_ of which the subject is
φιλία--a much wider word, let it be well noted, than the English
“friendship,”--Critobulus, one of the young followers of the
philosopher, is introduced as lamenting over the difficulty of making
friends; and the views of Socrates follow in reply. We extract the
whole passage:--

“What perplexes you, my young friend, said Socrates, seems to be
that you have frequently seen even the best men, and of the most noble
quality, quarrelling with one another, and fanning themselves into
hostility, even more fierce than that which divides the most worthless
members of society. Just so, said Critobulus, and not only this, but
the best-ordered societies, and those States which seem to possess the
most delicate sense of public honour, are often found to plunge into
the most unjustifiable wars. Where, then, shall we find a place for
social sympathy and true friendship? If the bad by their very nature
cannot know what love means, if betwixt the bad and the good there can
be no fellowship any more than betwixt fire and water, and if finally
the good, who practise virtue most severely, in the ambitious contests
of human life are still found for the most part envying one another
and hating one another, among what class of men, I ask, are fellowship
and good faith possible? But, said Socrates, this is by no means such
a simple matter as you seem to think. Nature here as elsewhere has two
sides. There is naturally implanted in men a social and sympathetic
element; for they naturally need one another, and feel for one
another, and help one another by co-operation; and alongside of this
there exists also an element of hostility; for wherever a {31} great
number of persons find their affections fixed on the same object,
which they cannot all enjoy, opposition and war in reference to that
object will naturally ensue. Hence strife and wrath and the passion
for aggrandizement, and feelings of envy and dislike toward those who
in the great competition of life are more successful than ourselves.
Nevertheless, so strong is the sympathetic principle in nature, that
it penetrates through all these barriers, and joins in bonds of
brotherhood all the noble and the good.”

This passage deserves special prominence in every estimate of the
philosophy of Socrates, not only on account of its own strong
practical good sense--a leading quality of the philosopher’s
mind--but on account of the complement which it supplies to the other
part of his doctrine, that virtue is practical reason. How true this
doctrine of rational morality is, and how comprehensive, we shall
endeavour to show immediately; but in the first place, before applying
reason to the actions of a social being, we must postulate the
existence of a sympathetic instinct, without whose impulsive and
attractive power reason could never be induced to exercise itself in
any social direction. To prove to a man who has no love in his nature
that he ought to love his neighbour, and that without such love no
society is possible (a proof by the way which Hobbes leads very
triumphantly), is all very well as a piece of reasoning; but it could
lead to no practical consequences if the person to whom it was
addressed was root and branch made up of pure selfishness. It would be
like arguing to a tiger that it should become a lamb. In all moral
questions, therefore, the motive powers must be supposed {32} as a
fact; they belong to the nature of a moral being as steam belongs to a
steam-engine; and therefore Socrates, whose whole teaching breathes
the earnest conviction of the great truth that moral philosophy has no
meaning as a theory, but exists only as a fact, is everywhere
exhibited as a great lover of men. Love of his kind, indeed, was the
main inspiration of his life, as in fact it must be that of all men
who aspire to the noble position of social reformation in any shape;
therefore it was that he was seen constantly in the streets and in the
market-places, and in the public shops, and the _ateliers_ of the
sculptors, and in festal and convivial celebrations of all kinds;
therefore it was that he professed himself on all occasions μάλα
ἐρωτικός--a passionate admirer of everything beautiful and
excellent whether in man or woman; and from this quick and ready
sympathy with all human excellence it was that, while he spoke the
truth on all occasions without fear, there was so little generally of
harshness in his reproof; nay, he would carry his human forbearance
and sympathetic complaisance so far on occasions as to visit a
beautiful ἑταῖρα, and converse with her on the philosophy of
dress, and the most scientific manner of spreading the net and baiting
the hook for her admirers.[32.1] How incongruous would it not be to
figure John Calvin or any modern theological doctor relaxing his
gravity in this region so far; and yet Socrates was as veritable a
saint as Calvin, only the men were constitutionally not only
different, but adverse; besides, Socrates was a Greek, and, so far as
impressibility by mere physical beauty is concerned, this {33} implies
much. What the modern Protestant theologian would have thought it a
sin to look at in the ancient philosopher might have excited an
innocent and pious admiration. But the tolerant universality of large
human sympathy in Socrates, however difficult it may be for some men
to understand, was in fact much less an anomaly in a severe moralist
than the selfish theory of Hobbes is in a man pretending to be a man
at all. To explain such a perverse phenomenon we must bear in mind
that the love of singularity in some minds is greater than the love of
truth; that some men of great intellectual capacity are deficient in
some of the finer instincts that stir heroic breasts, and fail to
recognise in others what they have no experience of in themselves;
that in the common characters whom one meets in daily life an
essentially selfish motive can often be traced beneath the gracious
surface, where to the public eye only benevolence, philanthropy,
humility, and self-denial shine out with genial radiance; that the
scientific mind has a peculiar pleasure in tracking out such
inconsistencies; that the speculative mind in its eagerness to embrace
various phenomena under one law is apt to run a-muck against Nature,
delighting, as she does sometimes, more in the compromise of various
principles than in the triumph of one; and finally, that men trained
principally in the political and legal world often have a tendency to
transfer the selfish principles which are most considered in their
domain to other spheres of the social system, where more free scope is
given to the exercise of the benevolent and unselfish propensities.
These considerations may perhaps account for the genesis of such an
incomplete moralist as Hobbes,--it is only {34} the common instance of
a meagre plant growing up in a bad climate. Socrates, on the other
hand, surprises and puzzles us by his sheer redundancy of ethical
sensibility; as a tropical vegetation seems sometimes to smother with
the exuberance of green life the sober demands of an eye educated in a
temperate climate.

Let us now turn to the second proposition: MAN IS A REASONING
ANIMAL;--trite enough, but what does this imply? and how far does it
bring us when we attempt to answer the question started by Dr. Paley,
_Why am I bound to keep my word?_ Let us see how Socrates would have
answered this question. Through the memoirs he stands forward in no
character so strongly as in that of the exposer of unrealities.
Himself the most truthful of all men, throughout a long life he can
find nothing better to do than to help others, first to draw the real
truth out of themselves, and then, by the touchstone thus acquired, to
distinguish the true man in the actual course of life from the fake
pretender. Truth therefore, unadulterated truth in thought and in act,
was the pole-star of his navigation. But the recognition and
realization of truth is the distinctive function of reason; therefore
truthfulness under every form of thought or action is the grand law of
reasonableness, and in virtue of this the grand rule of human conduct.
For no creature can be called upon to act at variance with its own
nature; and if it should attempt to do so, it will either fail
utterly--as if a worm should essay to fly--or, succeeding so far in
the experiment, as when a bear dances or a man speaks lies habitually,
the creature will make itself either ridiculous or contemptible. As
therefore you expect {35} your dog to nose well, your cat to mouse
well, your horse to race well, and your cow, when well grassed, to
give good milk, so expect yourself on all occasions to think and to
act reasonably, that is truthfully or in conformity with the reality
of things; and know for certain on each occasion that your thought or
your act deviates from right reason, that thus far you are not your
proper self, you are not, in the full sense of the word, a man; you
are, in fact, in reference to this matter, acting like a madman. For,
as Socrates in his familiar way puts it, if a man, imagining himself
twelve feet high, should bow his head whenever he entered a door eight
feet high, in order to avoid fracture of the skull, would we not call
such a person mad? And if he is justly esteemed insane who in such an
exorbitant way takes a false measure of his bodily height, why should
one be esteemed sane who habitually makes an equally false estimate of
his mental stature? If a person were to imagine that he knew Greek,
but whenever he opened his mouth poured forth a mere swallow-twitter
of inarticulate jargon, could he possibly be held to be of sound mind?
or if a man should push himself forward into the van of any great
undertaking, such as the building of bridges or the cutting of
tunnels, conceiving himself to be able to do these things, when he was
known to be ignorant of the simplest practical elements of
architecture and engineering, should we not say truly that such a
person is labouring under a delusion, which, if not madness, is
something very closely allied to it? From such considerations as these
Socrates deduced, with all the certainty of mathematical
demonstration, that the most imperative duty, and the most binding
{36} obligation of every man--the postulate, in fact, of all
reasonable and fruitful activity in life--is γνῶθι σεαυτόν, KNOW
THYSELF! and this maxim does not mean, of course, that a man is to go
into a corner, and by a series of probings to take the measure of his
own capacity; it means rather that we shall know our relation to that
outer world in which our active powers are to be spent; it means that
we shall know the world by free intercourse and by cautious trial, and
that we shall make it our business with conscientious care to discover
what we are fit for on this stage of things on which the drama of our
life is enacted, and what we are not fit for. And always in every
work, reasonably undertaken, if the execution is to be enduringly
successful, let the reasonable and true man study, as the one thing
needful, TO BE THE THING THAT HE WOULD SEEM TO BE.

From this statement, taken directly from the report of Xenophon, the
reader will perceive that we have got in Socrates fundamentally only a
very modern Scotch friend with a very ancient Greek face, viz., the
excellent laird of Craigenputtoch and venerable prophet of Chelsea on
the Thames, the burden of whose preaching has always been the
unveiling of SHAMS. Mr. Ruskin’s Lamp of Truth in Architecture
shines also manifestly with a kindred light; and in fact it is quite
certain, and the most important of all truths to be implanted in the
youthful mind when starting on the career of life, that we live in a
world of most grave and earnest and stiff realities, that must be
dealt with in a real and honest way--that is, neither in a superficial
nor in a false way, nor in an absurd way, nor with any sort of random
strokes, but only in a calculated and a reasonable {37} way, and
according to the unchangeable nature of things--if not, the penalty is
sure. If we will mistake a granite rock for a gigot of mutton, we
shall find that we have dined on something that no culinary art can
make at all digestible. Let us examine in rapid detail how far the
general Socratic principle of acting, reasonably and truthfully will
bring out the individual virtues which are the most necessary and the
most esteemed, whether in the common concerns of life or in those
seasons of rare culmination when manhood rises into heroism. Now, here
we see plainly enough, in the first place, that all the so-called
intellectual virtues--that is, those that depend on the vigorous and
well-directed use of the intellectual faculties--are, by the Socratic
principle, at once provided for in the most effective way. These
virtues are foresight, calculation, prudence in every shape, trained
talent, professional expertness, and substantial work on scientific
principles in all trades and occupations. The man who does any kind of
work in a careless, bungling, or superficial way is not acting as a
reasonable being; for the first demand of reason, as the truthful
faculty in the world of action, is to realize its idea completely and
thoroughly; and this no hasty and superficial handiwork can pretend to
do. Again, if a man, as happens only too often, undertakes a long
walk, and having miscalculated the distance, or carried with him
confused ideas of north and south, finds himself under the veil of
night wandering about in a boggy waste when he ought to have been snug
in his bed, he has himself to blame: he acted unreasonably in
undertaking an unknown expedition without exact information or wise
calculation; and it is only reasonable {38} that he should be
overtaken by the necessary consequences of all unreasoning procedure
in a world where Reason is the only law and Truth the unerring judge.
In the same way, from want of accurate knowledge, wise foresight, and
comprehensive survey, Crimean campaigns are bungled, and Reform Bills
of most serious consequence are huddled or juggled through a house of
fretful or feverish senators, and Acts of Parliament are patched up
with clauses that contradict one another, and make the preamble look
like a bridegroom who finds he has promised eternal fidelity to a
mistaken bride. All this is unreasonable work, and the men who did it
were not exercising their reason at the time of the perpetration; for
any practical purpose they might as well have been blind, furious,
fatuous, or asleep. ’Tis plain, therefore, that all the efficiency
of every kind of work done in the world depends on its reasonableness,
that is, on its truthfulness; and in full view, so to speak, of the
importance of this intellectual virtue Nature has furnished man with a
moral excellence closely akin to it. The recognition of truth in the
strictly intellectual world becomes, in the world of propulsive
passions and inspiring emotions, the love of truth. This virtue shows
itself in frankness, openness, and simplicity of character, and in an
imperious disdain of all sorts of equivocation, dissembling,
falsehood, and disguise, according to the well-known type of the
heroic character in Homer:

 “That man within my soul I hate, even as the gates of hell,
 Who speaks fair words, but in his heart dark lies and treachery dwell.”

Here Achilles, every one feels, is speaking like a man; and, though
all truth is not always everywhere {39} to be proclaimed, yet on great
occasions, where to strike the just mean is difficult, he who in an
impulse of fearless fervour vents a little too much truth, is always
more admired than the man who from a surcharge of cautious reticence
speaks too little. For a lie, in fact, as Plato says in the
_Republic_, is a thing naturally hateful both to gods and men; nor
indeed could it be otherwise; for what is all nature but a
manifestation in visible forms of a grand army of invisible forces?
and an untruthful manifestation is no manifestation at all, but rather
a concealment, as if a man should use words to say the very contrary
of what he means, which words, certainly, whatever effect they might
have, could not possibly be any exhibition of his real nature. It is
plain therefore that a lie is on every occasion a contradiction to the
essential truthfulness, and an obstacle thrown in the way to the
direct purpose, of nature; and whenever lies are told, it will be
found that they proceed either from a fundamental feebleness, that is,
an inherent lack of assertive and demonstrative force, or from fear,
that is, a comparative feebleness in respect of some external
threatening force, or finally from a systematic perversion or
inversion of nature in individual cases or unfavourable circumstances,
which operate as an obstruction to the free expression of the
essential truthfulness of things. In this way individuals whose social
sympathies have been frosted in early life, may grow up into a
monstrous incarnation of selfishness, living by the practice of
systematic falsity, of which we have examples enough in the
professional swindlers of whose achievements almost every newspaper
contains some record; and whole classes of men, as slaves and helots,
kept in a {40} state of unnatural bondage and subjection, may learn,
or rather must learn, to practise lies as their only safety from
injustice. Every slave is naturally a liar; for his nature is a false
nature, and has grown up into a contradiction to all nature, as trees
by forceful artifice are made to grow downwards seeking the earth,
instead of upwards to find the sun. And we may say generally, that
ninety-nine out of every hundred lies that are told in society are
lies of cowardice; lies of gigantic impudence and unblushing
selfishness, like the lies of Alexander the false prophet in the
second century, and other gross impostors, being comparatively few;
though of course, when they do occur, they excite more attention and
figure more largely in the newspapers. And from these considerations
we see plainly how it is that the world places such a high value on
the virtue of courage; for courage arises mainly from the possession
of that amount of physical or moral energy which enables a man
truthfully and emphatically in a real world to assert himself as an
effective reality; and in fact there is no character that in the
general judgment of mankind, and in a special degree to the British
feeling, appears more contemptible than the man who, on the appearance
of any petty danger, or the prospective emergence of a possible
difficulty, forthwith sneaks out of his position, gives the open lie
to his own professions, and the cold shoulder to his best friend. So
deep-rooted and so wide-spread, so woven into the living fibres of the
very heart of things, is the virtue of truth and truthfulness in
nature and life, which again, as we have said, is the mere utterance
of reason; the necessary utterance consequently of an essentially
reasonable being, and not at all the artificial product of a selfish
compact {41} or calculation of any kind, as Hobbes and the other
advocates of selfism, more or less modified, affirm. We speak the
truth therefore, and we are bound to keep our promise, not because
experience proves that society could not exist for a single day under
the pervading influence of all sorts of falsehood, nor again because
it can be proved by a formal induction that to speak the truth, as a
general rule, is the best way to secure the greatest happiness of the
greatest number--though there can be no harm in a man fortifying his
virtue by these very true and very philanthropic considerations, if he
chooses,--but the root of the matter lies deeper and more near to the
heart of the individual man, springing, as we have said, directly out
of the essential truthfulness and reasonableness of nature, according
to the prime postulate not of the philosophy of Socrates only, but of
Plato and Aristotle also, and all the great teachers of practical
wisdom amongst the Greeks.

It does not seem necessary, after what has been said, to expatiate
largely on the obvious deduction of the other cardinal virtues from
the Socratic principle of Reason or Truth. Wherever we turn our eyes
it will require little perspicacity to perceive that to do the right
is on all occasions to do the true thing,--as an apostle has it,
ποιεῖν τὴν ἀλήθειαν, _to do the truth_; or, in the words of a great
son of the Porch, _not to demand that things shall be as we wish,
but to wish that things shall be as they are_. The great virtue of
Justice, for instance, which, in its widest and well-known Platonic
sense, signifies giving to every person and thing that which
properly belongs to it, is nothing but the assertion in act of the
truth in reference to their concurrent or adverse claims; for how
can a man realize in any {42} relation of life the beautiful Stoical
definition of Right given in the Institutes of Justinian--_Justitia
est constans et perpetua voluntas suum cuique tribuendi_--how can a
man assign to each person that which is properly his, unless he knows
truly the nature and natural claims not of that person only, but of
all persons with whom his claim may come into competition? It is plain
therefore that Justice is merely knowledge or reason;[42.1] and as the
claims of different parties in reference to the same thing are often
very various and complicated, hence it is that to be a just judge a
man does not require to have a benevolent nature--though in cases of
equity the kindly feelings also must come into play--so much as to
have an intellect of large range, of firm grasp, and of subtle power
of discrimination. And if anybody, with special reference to legal
decisions, chooses to ask not only what qualities constitute a good
judge, but on what principles the idea of property is founded--how he
is to know the exact boundaries of MEUM and TUUM in particular
cases,--the answer here also, on the Socratic postulate of truth and
natural reasonableness, will be obvious enough. That is mine by the
law of nature and truth and God, which is either a part of me, or the
natural and necessary, fruit and product of that vital energy which I
call ME; or, more simply, the product of my labour and the issues of
my activity are mine; and no man can have a right or a claim
consistent with the truth of things, to appropriate the fruit of that
growth whereof the root and the stem and the living branches {43} and
the vital juices are a necessary part of me.[43.1] But it is not mere
legal justice and a true apportionment of the Mine and Thine that flow
as a plain corollary from the obligation of acting the truth, but the
wider equities of Christian charity and toleration; yea, and the very
constraining power of the Golden Rule itself is evolved unmistakeably
from the same principle. For what is it that from the time of Greeks
and Romans down to very recent days has tainted the whole laws of
European countries with such harsh declarations of intolerant
dogmatism and merciless persecution? Simply the fact that men, from
defect of sympathy and defect of knowledge, had never been trained to
realize the truth of things as between the natural right of a majority
to profess a national creed, and the equally natural right of a
minority to entertain doubts and to state objections as to the whole
or any part of such a creed. Intolerance proceeds either from
narrowness of view or from deficiency of sympathy; and in either case
it blinds the bigot to the fact that the right which he has to his own
opinions never can confer on him any right to dictate opinions to
others; the moment he does that he invades a dominion that does not
belong to him, and transgresses the truth of Nature; nor will this
transgression be less flagrant when it is made by ten millions against
one man, than if it {44} were made by one against ten millions. In the
same way all those superficial and inadequate, too often also harsh
and severe, judgments which we see and read daily amongst men in the
common converse of life, are the result of a habitual carelessness as
to truth, of which habit only too efficiently conceals the grossness.
And under the bitter inspiration of ecclesiastical and political
warfare, men, when speaking of their adversaries, will not only
lightly excuse themselves from using any special care in testing the
facts which it suits their purpose to parade, but they will even
consciously present a garbled statement constructed upon the principle
of pushing into prominence everything that is bad, and keeping out of
view everything that is good in the character of the person whom it
may suit the use of the moment to vilify. And in this way even the
sacred-sounding columns of an evangelical newspaper may become a
systematic manufactory of lies, against which most gross abuse of the
truth of Nature the son of Sophroniscus, if he were to appear on earth
now, would assuredly lift his protest with tenfold more emphasis than
he ever did against the sham knowledge of the most superficial of the
Sophists.

One or two short paragraphs will enable us now to say all that remains
to be said on the great principles of the Socratic philosophy of
Ethics.

In the first place, nothing that has been said here in endeavouring
shortly to epitomize the leading idea of Socrates with regard to
practical reason and acted truth, assumes to settle definitively that
much-vexed question, _How far is a man at any time, from any motive,
and for any object, entitled to tell or to enact {45} a lie?_ In a
dialogue of considerable length, which Socrates holds with Euthydemus,
a raw and conceited young Athenian, who, because he possessed a great
library, imagined himself to possess much wisdom, the philosopher is
represented as puzzling the young gentleman with such questions as the
following: Whether is it lawful for a general, with the view of
raising the drooping spirits of his soldiers, to give out an unfounded
report that friends are coming up to help them? Whether, if a father,
whose sick son refuses to take a necessary medicine, shall disguise
this medicine under the aspect of food, and by the ministry of this
drugged aliment restore his son to health, this act of deceit is right
or wrong? Or again, if a friend whom we love is given to fits of
melancholy, and may be apt in an evil moment to meditate suicide, is
it an act of culpable theft privately to purloin or forcibly to
abstract the sword or other lethal instrument of which he may avail
himself to commit the fatal act? In such and similar cases, though the
point is rather raised than settled, Socrates plainly seems to imply
that lies are both natural and beneficial, and therefore ought to be
tolerated. And in truth, though the extreme dogmatism of certain of
the Church Fathers lays down the doctrine that the obligation of
truth-speaking and truth-doing is absolute, and admits of no
exception, yet the common sense of mankind, and the universal practice
of saints and sinners in all ages and in all countries, goes along
with Socrates (and we may add Plato here, _Rep_. ii.) in the
assertion, that where violence is done to Nature in one way by an
unnatural overwhelming force, such as occurs in war, then Nature
defends herself by a {46} violence to her habitual principles in an
opposite direction; that is to say, it will be justifiable, on certain
occasions, and within certain limits, to defeat force by fraud; or, as
Lysander the captor of Athens used to say, where a man may not show
the lion’s hide he must wrap himself in the fox’s skin. But the
very suspicion with which the general moral sentiment guards the
extension of this motive, which in extreme cases it allows, shows that
all deviation from truth is looked upon as the result of a force upon
Nature; and, if it may in certain cases be excused or even
imperatively commanded, it never brings with it the natural aliment of
our better nature, which breathes freely only in the wide and pure
atmosphere of truth. The general obligation of truth, therefore,
according to the doctrine of Socrates, is not at all weakened by the
occasional necessity of deceit; for while the one rests firmly on the
foundation of the eternal constitution of things, the other is the
mere shift of the moment, the sudden dictate of an expediency, which
in noble natures is half ashamed of itself when it succeeds.

Another well-known dogma of the Socratic philosophy is, that not only
is Science as the product of Reason the supreme legislative authority
in all questions of morals, but in point of fact also, that to know
what is right is to do what is good, for no man with his eyes open
will perpetrate an act which demonstrably leads to his own
destruction. Of this assertion, so contrary to the universal
experience of mankind, and so ably refuted by Aristotle and his school
in the Nicomachean ethics, it need only be said that it is one of
those paradoxes in the garb of {47} which all philosophies are apt to
clothe themselves occasionally, partly for the gratification of the
teacher, who delights to push his principle to an acme, partly for the
benefit of the scholar, whose attention is excited and his imagination
pleased by the startling novelty of the dictum. The proposition of
Socrates therefore, that knowledge is virtue, and vice not only folly
but ignorance, is of the same nature with the paradox of the Stoics,
that _the virtuous man can have no enemy_, or that _pain is no evil_,
or with the precept in the Gospel, which no man ever thinks of obeying
in the letter, that when a thief takes your cloak you should thank
him, like a benign Quaker, for his kindness, and give him your coat
into the bargain. But it is possible to defend the paradox of Socrates
taken strictly, by saying that when a man does a thing which
demonstrably leads to his ruin, he either never had this demonstration
vividly present to his mind, or, at the moment when the
self-destroying act was committed, his knowing faculty was blinded and
sopited, dosed and drugged by his passions, and so; at the time when
his knowledge was most required, he was virtually ignorant of what he
was about. But there is little profit in puzzling about such
paradoxical maxims, as, like Berkeley’s theory about the
non-existence of matter, they are constantly open to be corrected by
common-sense and the daily experience of life. A Calvinist preaches
Fatalism in the pulpit to-day, but to-morrow flogs his slave or his
son for abusing his free-will. So a smart twitch of the toothache
answers the Stoics when they assert that pain is no evil: and the
lives of Solomon, King David, and Robert Burns prove that great men in
all ages have, in {48} their cool moments, been as nobly sagacious as
Socrates, but not therefore at all moments as consistently virtuous.

The last point which demands notice here is the relation which virtue
bears to happiness, and to the much-bespoken utilitarianism of the
most recent ethical school in this country. Now the truth with regard
to this stands patent on the very face of the Socratic argument, and
can escape no man who goes through the _Memorabilia_ with ordinary
sympathy. The happiness of every creature consists in the free and
unhindered exercise of its characteristic function; the happiness of a
horse in racing well, of a dog in nosing well, of a cat in mousing
well, of a man in reasoning well, that is, in thinking and acting
reasonably. For the opposite state of things to this could only exist
on the supposition that the Author of Nature or the Supreme Artificer
(ὁ δημιουργός, as Socrates and Plato loved to phrase it)
delighted in inspiring creatures with a desire, and providing them
with a machinery, to do things the direct effect of which is to make
them miserable; that is to say, if the demiurge were a demon; of which
demoniacal government of the world, however, happily there is no sign;
for not even the most tortured victim of toothache, as Dr. Paley
observes, has yet found himself warranted in drawing the conclusion
that teeth in general were made for no other purpose than that people
might be tormented with such excruciating pangs. Happiness, therefore,
and the reasonable exercise of his faculties by a reasonable creature,
are identical. No creature can deliberately desire to make itself
miserable, and no rational creature can escape misery except by acting
reasonably. And if, {49} in the language of the schools, any person,
from this point of view, shall call Socrates a eudæmonist,[49.1] a
eudæmonist unquestionably he was. But we must bear in mind that,
while he was the warm advocate of all sorts of happiness and
enjoyment, and himself at the same time a living picture of vital joy
and geniality, he never allowed himself to be carried away by the
perverse and perilous subtlety of a certain school of philosophers,
both in ancient and modern times, who thought to do honour to the
eudæmonistic principle by confounding the good with the
pleasurable.[49.2] For the distinction so broadly established in all
languages between Pleasure as an affair of momentary excitement or
titillation, and Good as the source of lasting and permanent
enjoyment, is not to be obliterated by the arbitrary terminology of
men who write ethical systems in books. According to the established
use of language, from Socrates and St. Paul down to the present hour,
Pleasure cannot be the good of man,--it may be the good of a brute;
for as pleasure is momentary happiness, without reason, or it may be
often in the teeth of reason, so the Good is reasonable and permanent
happiness, accompanied, it may be, with a little momentary pain, but
productive of lasting satisfaction. So much for eudæmonism. Then, as
for utilitarianism, whether it be a different thing from eudæmonism,
or only a different aspect of the same thing, {50} there is nothing
more certain than that Socrates was a utilitarian. The word _useful_
(χρήσιμον or ὠφέλιμον) is constantly occurring in his conversations;
utility in fact was the starting-point of his whole movement, and
gives the key-note to all his discussions; for his grand objection, as
we saw above, to the physical speculations of his predecessors, was
that they were useless, as opposed to which the doctrine which he
preached was recommended on the ground of its practical utility. Of
this utilitarian principle he was indeed so fond, that, like his
doctrine of virtue being founded on knowledge, he was inclined to push
it too far, and certainly did run it, in some cases, to absolute
falsity. This appears most strikingly in two dialogues in the Memoirs,
where, in opposition to the idol-worship of mere beauty, so dear to
the Greeks, he flatly lays down the counter proposition that nothing
can be beautiful except in so far as it serves the purpose for which
it was intended; in other words, that beauty consists in that
suitability or fitness of an article to effect its purpose which makes
it a useful article. But every one sees that there is a jump in the
logic here, which, if Socrates had been as anxious to establish a
scientific theory of beauty as he was to present rational morals, he
certainly could not have made. For though every article, as the
imperative condition of its existence, ought to answer the purpose for
which it was made, and the article which answers this purpose best is
the best article; and though beauty of structure is a something
superadded, and which will always offend if it is plainly at war with
the design, fitness, and utility of the structure--for which reason,
as architects say, the ornamentation {51} ought always to grow out of
the construction,--it is quite a different thing to say that beauty
and fitness or utility are identical. The railway companies in our day
have thrown across not a few beautiful rivers and picturesque gorges
the ugliest iron bridges that can be conceived; but no doubt they are
as useful, and perhaps may be more permanent, than stone structures of
a more elegant and graceful design. We shall therefore say that
Socrates, in his remarks on the τὸ καλόν, pushed his utilitarian
principles and the extreme practicality of his nature into
the domain of the absurd and the false. But within his proper province
of morals, one cannot see that he was led by his doctrine of utility
into any speculative or practical mistake. For the word _useful_ in
itself is a word which really has no meaning; it is always only a
stepping-stone to something beyond itself, and receives significance
only when from some independent source the end is exhibited which the
useful object subserves. When, therefore, Socrates talks about
morality being identical with utility, he is not asserting a
philosophical principle like the modern writers who use that term; he
only means to say that a certain course of conduct founded on reason,
or certain maxims deduced from reason, are useful to a man to enable
him to obtain the end of his existence, that is, a certain happiness
according to his opportunities and capacities. And if the advocates of
the so-called utilitarian philosophy, finding the utter unmeaningness
of their favourite shibboleth as a distinctive term, shall tell us
that utility means something absolute (which however it can do only by
interpolating into itself an altogether foreign idea), if, however,
they shall say, as they are {52} in the habit of doing, that that
course of action is useful which tends to promote “the greatest
happiness of the greatest number,” then here they say nothing which
either Socrates or Plato or the apostle Paul, or Dr. Wollaston or
Immanuel Kant or in fact any sane man, ever dreamt of contravening. In
virtue of his faith in the innate sociabilities of man as opposed to
the selfism of Hobbes, Socrates could not but believe that it was his
duty, after having made his own life reasonable in the first place, to
help other people to get out of the limbo of unreason as speedily as
possible. This he says again and again in his conversations; in fact,
his whole missionary exertions meant nothing else; and the
philanthropic power of the missionary impulse which impelled him to
seek the rational happiness of his fellow-men having once full sway in
his heart, the wish for the greatest happiness of the greatest number
followed as a matter of course. Every missionary estimates his success
and feels his moral enjoyment increased by the number of his converts.
The man who desires the happiness of his fellow-beings at all, whether
as Epicurus or Plato, must desire that happiness to the greatest
number of human beings that can comfortably enjoy it within certain
given limits of space and time.

The next great division of our subject leads us to consider, what is
by no means a matter of secondary importance, the peculiar and
characteristic manner in which Socrates inculcated the lofty
principles of his ethical philosophy--the so-called Socratic method of
teaching and of preaching. Now, with regard to this, in the first
place, what lies on the surface is that the Socratic method of
inculcating the principles of morals consists in a sort of catechising
or cross-questioning {53} such as is practised by lawyers in
Westminster Hall, a method which is generally considered not the most
pleasant of operations even there, and which if practised now-a-days
by private persons, whether in West-end saloons or in East-end
parlours, would certainly be considered extremely ill-bred. And that
this should be the general feeling of all classes of mankind with
regard to the matter is natural enough; for the object of the
operation being generally to convince the person operated on that he
knows nothing about what he professes to know, and to do this by
publicly entangling him in the web of his own arguments, and forcing
him into a self-contradiction, it is obvious that self-esteem and love
of approbation will, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, be
strong enough to stir a certain degree of resentment in the breast of
the sufferer. Nay, sometimes will he not feel like a poor fish
cleverly hooked by an expert angler, and played about perhaps more to
show the skill of the captor than from any consideration of the
feelings of the captive? All this is very true; and no doubt Socrates
made not a few enemies by this extremely personal method of exposing
the manifold superficialities and incompetencies of the persons with
whom he conversed. But, upon the whole, that he was rather a popular
man, or more correctly, an extremely popular man, in Athens, during a
long lifetime, notwithstanding the catastrophe of the hemlock, seems
pretty plain both from Xenophon and Plato. This popularity, in the
face of what certainly was a rather odious mission, arose both from
the kindly sympathetic nature of the man, and from the admirable tact
which the philosopher constantly displayed in dealing {54} with those
whom he submitted to the operation of his ethical probe. Though in the
majority of cases he was found to end in a direct contradiction of the
original position of his adversary, he always commenced by agreeing
with him; and if he saw nothing absolutely to agree with in the way of
argument, he took care to launch him in a good humour by praising some
excellence in him or about him. Thus, in the case of Euthydemus,
mentioned above as the possessor of a large library, he gives
prominence to the praiseworthy ambition shown by the young man to
spend his money rather on the sentences of the wise than on the
vanities of external pomp and pernicious dissipation; and thus, though
the young book-fancier departs at the end of the dialogue altogether
shorn of his conceit, and thinking the best thing he can do hereafter
to prove his learning is to hold his tongue, yet he leaves the
philosopher with no rankling ill-will, but rather disposed towards him
as one feels towards a kind and considerate physician who has been
forced to administer to his patient a nauseous drug. And thus the mild
manner of the teacher removed, in a great measure, the offence of the
lesson; for it is, as an apostle says, “the wrath of man which
worketh not the righteousness of God,” in most cases, not the mere
speaking of the truth, if the truth be spoken in love. Let us inquire
now more particularly how the cross-examination went on. Aristotle, in
a well-known passage of the Metaphysics, tells us that there were two
inventions to which Socrates might justly lay claim--the defining of
general terms (τὸ ὁρίζεσθαι καθόλου), and inductive reasoning
(ἐπακτικοὶ λόγοι). A modern instance will enable us to understand {55}
what this means. Suppose I get into an argument with any person as to
whether A. or B., or any person holding certain opinions, manifesting
certain feelings, and acting in a certain way, is a Christian. I say
he is; my contradictor says he is not; how, then, shall we settle the
difference? Following the example of Socrates, the best procedure
certainly will be to ask him to define what he means by a Christian.
Suppose then he answers, _A Christian is a religious person who
believes in the Nicene Creed_, I immediately reply, The Nicene Creed
was not sent forth till the year 325 after Christ; what then do you
make of the thousands and hundreds of thousands of Christians who
lived before that? To this objection the answer of course will be that
the Nicene Creed, though not set forth in express articles, did
virtually exist as a part of the living faith of all true Christians.
Then, if I doubt this, I say, Was Origen a Christian, was Justin
Martyr a Christian? are you sure these two Fathers believed every
article of that Creed? My opponent now, in all likelihood, not being
profoundly versed in patristic lore, is staggered; and I proceed, we
shall suppose, to cite some passages from some one of the ante-Nicene
Fathers, which imply dissent from some of the articles of the orthodox
symbol. He is then reduced to the dilemma of either denying that this
Father was a Christian, or (as that will scarcely be allowable)
widening his original definition so as to include a variety of cases
which, by the narrowness of the terms, were excluded. I then go on to
test the comprehensiveness of the new definition in the same way; and
if I find that it contains any elements which belong to the species
and not to {56} the genus, any peculiarities say of modern Calvinism,
or of mediæval Popery, that do not belong to the general term
“Christianity,” I push him into a corner in the same way as
before, till I bring out from his own admissions a pure and broad
definition of the designation Christian, as opposed to Heathen, Jew,
or any other sort of religious professor. Now the example here given
was purposely chosen, to make manifest by a familiar example, what
everyday experience must teach us, that the principal cause of
difference of opinion amongst men is, that people start in argument
with some general term, with respect to which they do not know, and
have in fact never thought of seriously inquiring, what extent of
ground it covers. So that when the inadequate notions with which the
minds of untrained persons are possessed have to be replaced by
adequate ones, the process always resolves itself into a making of
definitions, and a strict scrutiny of some general term, which had
hitherto passed current without special interrogation. A teacher
therefore, who would be practically useful to mankind, and not merely
make brilliant oratorical displays to tickle and to amuse, must before
all things make it his business to see that they have clear ideas, not
on matters of profound and remote speculation, but on the common
currency of general terms which the necessities of social life
require. Such a teacher was Socrates; and hence the logical form which
his practical teaching by cross-examination, among a people
passionately fond of arguing, naturally assumed. A less argumentative
people than the Greeks, such as ourselves,--English and Scotch and
Irish,--will often look on a Socratic dialogue in Plato, or even
Xenophon, {57} as curiously pedantic, which to the Athenians was only
amusingly subtle. Even Socrates, the most practical, and, in the sense
explained above, the most utilitarian of men, loved to have his little
logical play out of the discussion, in a fashion which to a broad
practical Briton, unaccustomed to speculation, and impatient, often
incapable of grappling with a principle, would appear impertinent. So
much for the Socratic hunt after definitions. As to the other point
mentioned by Aristotle, that Socrates deserves praise as the inventor
of inductive reasoning, there is really no cause for surprise in the
matter. Lord Bacon was not the inventor of this method of dealing with
facts; neither indeed, if we look beneath the surface, was Socrates;
both induction and deduction exist in a state of constant action and
reaction in every normally developed human mind; but the praise which
belongs to Bacon is that of having pressed the inductive method, with
strong adjurations and a special machinery, into the service of
physical science; while the praise, no less important, belongs to
Socrates, of having taught men four hundred years before Christ, to be
as scrupulously exact in testing by experience their moral ideas, as
they now are in proving by experiment their physical theories. Let us
take a well-known instance of induction in physical science, and then
see how, under certain obvious modifications, the same method of
procedure must be adopted in the successful cultivation of the moral
sciences. We know, for instance, that there exists a marvellous,
almost miraculous, force pervading the universe, called Electricity;
this is now one of the widest of general terms in the vocabulary of
physical science, and arrived at, like {58} all other such terms, by
the carefully weighed steps of a long induction. Certain phenomena of
attraction are first observed, in reference to amber, wax, and other
bodies, when rubbed, free from the influence of humidity; the same
phenomena are then observed in other bodies, and accompanied with the
emission of sparks of light and tiny explosions; by an ingeniously
contrived apparatus the force which causes these sparks and these
explosions is accumulated, and the effects produced by this higher
potency of the same force become of course more noticeable, and some
of these experiments lead a thinking man irresistibly to the notion
that what we call electricity, as elicited by us from our electrical
machines, is only a sort of mimic thunder and lightning, as crackers
with which boys play on the Queen’s birthday are in principle the
same as big cannons and Lancaster guns. This idea, once entertained,
is tested in many different ways, till the conclusion is certainly
arrived at that electricity and lightning are identical. By and by
other forces, such as magnetism and galvanism, being considered more
carefully, and compared with the electricity of the electric machines,
are found to possess many points of resemblance, and are in time
concluded to be fundamentally the same; and now our general term
electricity is widened into a cosmical power, which if we fail to
define, the failure will arise not from building on partial facts, but
because our generalization has clearly mounted so high into the domain
of the Infinite that the finite understanding staggers, and perhaps is
doomed for ever to stagger, at the attempt to hold it in firm grasp.
Thus the progress of physical science is a continual process of the
giving up of inadequate {59} general terms, and supplying them by
something either exactly adequate, or approximating to adequacy, as
high as the human intellect can hope to ascend. Now to this process
the discovery of the true significance of general terms in morals
forms an exact parallel. Suppose, for instance, a young Englishman
emerging out of the merely physical delights of cricket and
boat-racing, and beginning to occupy himself seriously with some of
the great social questions of the day. To him morality first presents
itself, not in the form of logical analysis, the characteristic engine
of Socrates, but in the concrete form of the Christian Church. He
starts therefore with an idea of ethical science as a part of
Christianity, and of Christianity as he knows it, formulated in
certain articles of belief, represented dramatically in certain
liturgic services, and held together by a certain hierarchy of
office-bearers. In this condition it is not to be expected that the
idea either of Morals, or of Church, or of Religion, or of
Christianity, will exist in his mind so purified from adventitious and
accidental matter as to stand the test of strict reasoning. What then
is to be done with him, if he is not to remain contented with that
purely local conception of moral and religious truth which belongs to
him like his cylindrical hat or his swallow-tail coat, as an affair of
accepted tradition rather than of reasoned truth? Plainly there is
only one course: you must convince him of the insufficiency of his
premises for warranting any general conclusion at all; and, then
leading him through the whole moral and ecclesiastical experience of
the Christian Church, open to him a wide and a sure field of
observation from which legitimate inductions {60} with regard to moral
and religious ideas comprised in the term Christianity can be made. So
that the cross-examination, of which we gave a specimen above, is in
reality a process of induction as much as the processes in physical
science by which electricity is identified with galvanism, and both
with magnetism. But if the ethical idea is to emerge perfectly pure
from such an investigation, our young Episcopal philosopher will
require to broaden his conception of morality and religion yet
further, so as to embrace moral phenomena of an important kind beyond
the pale of the term Christianity altogether. No doubt Christianity is
to us, and has been to the most favoured races of humanity, for nearly
two thousand years, the grand bearer of the deepest moral truth; but
the religion of Christ does not exist everywhere,--did not exist
certainly when a Pythagoras, a Socrates, and a Plato founded their
great schools of moral teaching and training among the Greeks; and
thus to bring out the ethical idea strong in the internal identity of
all its various Avatars, our young inquirer must launch out into the
wide, and in a great measure hitherto unexplored, sea of comparative
ethics and comparative theology. A type of this sort of procedure will
be found in the late admirable Baron Bunsen’s book entitled _God in
History_, a work with regard to which even those who do not accept all
its conclusions must admit that it is constructed upon the only scheme
on which a large and adequate philosophy of ethical and religious
truth can be raised.

We have said that moral investigation, when conducted on the Socratic
method, is as truly inductive as any process in physical science. But
there is a {61} distinction, and that a very vital one. In moral
inquiries we can often start directly with deduction from some inward
principle, implanted in the human mind by the Author of our being. The
love of truth, for instance, as above set forth, is one of those
principles; our general term in this case we bring with us; and any
induction which we may require is not to prove the existence of such
an instinct, but to verify, to extend, and to correct our notions of
its applicability, or perhaps merely to confirm us in our original
sacred faith, by showing in detail that society never has existed, and
in fact never can exist, without that regard to truth in all dealings
of man with man, the necessity of which we had asserted originally
from the constraining power of the inborn moral imperative decree. And
if our moral principles always existed in a vivid and healthy state,
there might be little need for the slow retrogressive process of
induction in ethics; but as these instincts are peculiarly liable to
be enfeebled, curtailed, and perverted by individual neglect, as well
as social constraint, the corrective and cathartic process by
induction on a more extended basis becomes necessary for the worst
men, and not without utility for the best. At the same time, of the
noblest minds in the moral world it may always be asserted that their
whole life has been rather a practical deduction from lofty truths
given by original inspiration from the Divine Source of all vitality
than the product of any induction from an acquired survey of facts.
The work of a great moral teacher or reformer, such as the apostle
Paul or Thomas Chalmers, is in fact a creation as much as the poems of
a Shakespeare or the paintings of a Raphael; and has a {62} manifest
affinity also with the grand deductions of mathematical genius, which,
from the postulated form of a triangle, a circle, or other figure of
which the conditions are dictated by the mind, not gathered from
observation, evolves an array of the most curious relations, of which
no one had hitherto dreamed, and which are each one as necessary and
absolutely true as the postulate from which they came forth. Exactly
so with Morals. An admitted postulate--say of truthfulness, of love,
or whatever inborn original principle you please,--may be worked out
as the world advances into ever new and more noble practical
applications, which shall be as unconditionally right as the original
diving force out of which they grew. And as the propositions of Euclid
can be proved _a posteriori_ by empirical measurements, though they do
not depend on these measurements, in the same way the great truths of
ethical science may be proved from induction, though in the case at
least of great moral teachers they are the direct and pure products of
an inspired deduction. And both with respect to mathematical and moral
truths, it may be said that, while the _a posteriori_ inductive method
forces assent upon the lowest class of minds, the _a priori_ or
deductive method is the spontaneous evolution of the highest class of
minds, whose dictates are sympathetically accepted by all whom Divine
grace may have disposed to be touched by the noble contagion.

So much for the logical element in the Socratic method. But as his
logic was merely the dexterous weapon of a great moral apostleship, we
must look on him also from this aspect, and contrast the method of his
teaching with that of a modern sermon. {63} A sermon is either the
most rousing and effective, or the tamest and most ineffective of all
moral addresses, according to the character and power of the man who
delivers it. If the speaker has a real vocation to address his
fellow-men on moral subjects, and if he does not deal in vague and
trivial generalities, sounding very pious on Sunday, but having no
distinct and recognisable reference to the secular business of Monday,
then a good sermon may be compared to a discharge of moral
electricity, which will arouse many sleepers, or to the setting up of
a sure finger-post, which will direct many wanderers. But if he is
tame, and a mere professional dealer in certain routine articles of
piety, which religious people wear as a sort of amulet rather than use
as a weapon--in this case no species of moral address can be looked on
as less effective; for it neither rouses nor guides, and instead of
ending in any work in the life of the hearer (and all moral teaching
that does not end in a work is vanity), the hearing of it is rather
looked on as a sort of work in itself, which, however short, is
generally considered as having been a little too long when it is
ended. Now, as distinguished from both these styles of pulpit address,
the Socratic sermon was addressed to the individual man, and could not
fail to produce a distinct and tangible effect; for it ended always by
saying to the hearer, as Nathan said to David, THOU ART THE MAN!
There was no escape from the appeal; it might not hover about the ears
with a pious hum for half an hour, and then be forgotten; it must
either be indignantly rejected, or graciously accepted. And herein
precisely lay the great distinction between Socrates and the Sophists,
{64} a distinction which Mr. Grote has so perversely done his best to
obliterate. Socrates was a preacher; the Sophists were not. Socrates
was a patriot fighting and dying earnestly for a great cause; the
Sophists were cunning masters of fence, who had no cause to fight for
except themselves and their own pockets. But Socrates, though in a
very different way, was as earnestly a moral reformer in Athens as
Calvin was in Geneva. When the stern Genevese disciplinarian set
himself with all the resolution of a manly nature to put some checks
and hindrances in the way of the loose practices of the
“Libertines” of Lake Leman, these respectable people protested
strongly against the attempt, saying to the unflinching preacher,
“It is your place to explain the Scriptures; what right have you to
meddle with other things--to talk about morals and find fault?” And
even so in Athens there were certain Libertines who used exactly the
same language to Socrates. Had you been a mere talker like the other
Sophists, you might have been allowed to talk; talking is a very
innocent affair; but your talk is not a mere exhibition of lingual
dexterity; it means something; it means perhaps danger to the
State,--certainly it means danger to us; it means that we may be
called to account for our deeds by any man who assumes to have a more
scrupulous conscience or a more enlightened reason than ourselves; and
this is what we will not tolerate.

One of the oddities of Socrates which seems to have offended the nice
taste of the χαρίεντες, or men of elegant culture in Athens,
was the homeliness of his style and the familiarity of his
illustrations. This is particularly alluded to by Alcibiades in the
{65} humorous speech in Plato’s Banquet; from which an extract has
been already made. In the peroration of that speech Alcibiades is made
to say that not only the personal appearance, but the whole style and
language of Socrates, had a close affinity to the Sileni and Satyrs;
for instead of using elegantly turned sentences and studiously
selected illustrations, like the Sophists, he was always talking about
“smiths and tanners and shoemakers, and asses with pack-saddles,”
and a whole host of such vulgarities, which to the hearer at first
seemed to make him ridiculous; but by and by they discovered that
behind all this rough Satyr’s hide of uncouth expression there
lurked a truly divine meaning, and the faces of gods peeped out
through the holes of the beggar’s coat. And the same language is
used in Xenophon by Critias and Charicles when, in the exercise of a
tyrannical authority, they called upon the philosopher to cease from
his dangerous business of talking sedition to the young men. Now, any
man who considers this matter will perceive that the peculiarity of
style here noted lay partly in the natural character of the man,
partly was the best style which he could possibly have adopted, if he
really wished to do good as a moral missionary, and not merely to
parade himself before men as a clever talker. The dignity of the
pulpit in modern times is one of the great causes of its comparative
inefficiency; it will not condescend to familiar subjects; it rejects
familiar illustrations as bad taste, and the consequence too
frequently is that it is not received into the confidence of every-day
life, and stands apart on too lofty a pedestal to be useful. But as a
sensible and acute ethical writer remarks, {66} “if moral questions
disdain to walk the streets, the philosophy of them must remain in the
clouds;”[66.1] and so Socrates is justified in his method of testing
every lofty principle by a familiar example, and, like Wordsworth, the
thoughtful poet of the Lakes, teaching us that philosophy is then most
profound when it points out what is uncommon in common things, and
that he is a wiser man who plucks a lesson from the daisy at his feet
than he who wanders for it to the stars above his head.

Another notable peculiarity of the Socratic method is, that, while in
the majority of cases the discussion seems to end in unveiling the
ignorance of pretenders to knowledge, and, as we express it, taking
the conceit out of them, in other cases the young examinee, instead of
being convicted of ignorance, is pleasantly surprised at finding that
he knows more than he suspected, and goes home with the comfortable
assurance that he needs not to sink his bucket into any foreign shaft,
but really possesses a well of living waters in his own soul, if he
will only work it faithfully, and be careful to remove obstructions.
The unveiling of this hidden fountain of knowledge to the humble and
thoughtful inquirer is the famous obstetric process of which Socrates
humorously boasted himself a practiser. As his mother’s profession
was to help nature to bring her physical births easily and happily to
the light, so her son’s business was to practise intellectual
obstetrics, and help people to deliver themselves of their
intellectual offspring. In this method of talking there is involved
the whole philosophy of the best art of teaching; even as the word
_education_ by its {67} etymological affinities plainly indicates, in
so far as it signifies to “draw out,” not to “put in.” We see
here again the practical issue of that fine erotic passion for human
beings, that divine rage for humanity, which was the inspiration of
his life, and put into his hands the golden key to the hearts of all
teachable men. While he was the most exact and scientific, he was, at
the same time, the least dogmatic and egotistic of moral teachers. He
did not desire so much that men should placidly submit to receive his
dogmas, as that they should be trained to the grand human function of
shaping out the universal divine idea, or at least some part of it,
each man for himself, according to his capacity. He wished to be no
more than the trencher of the moral soil, not the planter of the seed;
the seed lay already in the clod, which being broken, the outward
influences of sun and air and dew excited, from within the growth of
an essentially divine germ.

Let it be noted under this head, in conclusion, that it was essential
to the reformatory mission of Socrates that he should teach without a
fee. The man who practises a trade or a profession may justly demand
the wages of his labour; but to preach moral truth, to protest against
public sins, and convert sinners, is no profession for which the world
can be expected to pay. Those who practise remunerative trades and
professions supply the immediate wants of the world, and are paid in
the world’s coin; but for this payment they become the slaves of the
masters who employ them, and must give the rightful value for the
stipulated reward. But a prophet, or an apostle, or a teacher of moral
truth in any shape, knows that he is bringing an article to the {68}
market for which there may be no demand; he knows further that, by his
mere attitude as a preacher, he is assuming a superiority over his
brethren which is inconsistent with the equality of position and right
which the act of buying and selling supposes in the parties concerned.
He must, above all things, be free in his function; and to accept
money from no one is the first condition of moral independence. Of
this the father of the faithful, as we read in the Book of Genesis,
gave an illustrious example, when he refused to take any of the booty
offered to him by the king of Sodom, “lest thou shouldest say, I
have made Abram rich.” And for the same reason manifestly, neither
the Hebrew prophets nor the apostle Paul were paid for their
preaching, nor indeed in the nature of things could he. Savonarola was
not paid for publicly preaching against the vicious lives of the
Popes; Luther was not paid for his manly protest against the
prostitution of Divine grace in the sale of pardons for tinkling
silver; and in the same way Socrates was not, and could not be, paid
for his mission of convincing the cleverest persons in Athens of
ignorance, shallowness, and all sorts of inadequacy. In fact he did
not come forward as a professional teacher at all. He issued no
flaming advertisements. He only said that he was a man in search of
wisdom, and would be glad of any honest man’s company and
co-operation in the search. The Sophists in this and in so many other
respects were altogether different. They made large professions and
accepted large fees.

It remains now, in order to complete our sketch, that we give some
indication of the theological {69} opinions and religious life of
Socrates; then that we point shortly to his political opinions and
public life; and lastly, that we attempt a just estimate of the
circumstances and agencies which led to his singularly notable and
noble exit from the brilliant stage where he had for so many years
been the prominent performer. That Socrates because he was a moralist
should have been also a theologian is not absolutely necessary; it is
natural, however; so natural, indeed, that when a great popular
teacher, like Confucius, though not theoretically an atheist,
practically ignores religion, we cannot but accept this as a sign of
some mental idiosyncrasy alike unfortunate for the teacher and the
taught. For to deny a First Cause, or not to assert it decidedly, is
as if a man, professing to be a botanist, should describe only the
character of the flower and the fruit as what appears above ground,
while either from stupidity or cross-grained perversity, he ignores
the root and the seed, without which the whole beauty of the blossom
and the utility of the fruit could not exist; or, to take another
simile, it is as if a man should curiously describe the cylinders and
the pistons and the wheels, the furnaces, the boilers, and the
condensing chambers of a steam-engine, and while doing so studiously
avoid mentioning the name of James Watt. One would say, in such a
case, that, while the describer deserved great praise for the
clearness and consistency with which he had set forth the sequence of
mechanical operations that make up the engine, he had left an
unsatisfactory impression on the mind, by omitting the grand fact
which rendered the existence of such an engine possible, viz., a
creative intellect. We should say that he was a good mechanician and
an {70} eloquent expounder of machinery, but we could not call him a
philosopher; he had stopped short, in fact, at the very point where
philosophy finds its thrill of peculiar delight at the vestibule of
ultimate causes. To the scientific man, in the same way, who is either
a speculative atheist or who studiously avoids any allusion to an
original plastic Intellect as the Ultimate Cause of all things and the
Primary Force of all forces, the universe is merely a vast unexplained
machine, performing a closely concatenated series of unintelligible
operations, tabulated under the name of Laws; and to the moralist, who
is only a moralist, society is a machine of another kind, whose wheels
and pulleys and bands may be curiously described, and must be kept in
nice order, but of whose genesis he can give no intelligible account.
It follows, therefore, that a philosophical moralist must be a theist,
and that not only on speculative grounds, but from this practical
consideration also, that from no source can the Moral Law derive the
unity and the authority which is essential to it, so efficiently as
from the all-controlling and unifying primary fact which we call
GOD. Any other keystone contrived by ingenious wits to give
consistency to the social arch is artificial; this alone is
natural.[70.1] Accordingly we find that from the days of Moses and the
Hebrew prophets, through Solon and Pythagoras to Socrates and Plato;
from Socrates and {71} Plato through the Apostles and Evangelists and
the grand army of Church Fathers, to Luther, Calvin, Knox, and the
other great Reformers of the sixteenth century; from the great
Churchmen of the Reformation through Leibnitz and Spinoza, and Locke
and Butler and Kant, down to the very recent and low platform of Paley
and Austin, the foundation of Morals has been laid in Theology. And of
all great theological moralists there is none who is at once more
theoretically distinct and more practically consistent than Socrates.
To him is to be traced the first scientific expression of the great
argument from design,--an argument, no doubt, which is as old as the
human heart, and exists in all unperverted minds without being
formulated, but which, in a logical age and among a critical people,
not the less demands to be set forth, link by link, and illustrated in
detail as Socrates does in the following dialogue, a dialogue which we
shall translate at length, at once as a notable landmark in
theological literature, and as a good illustration of the
philosopher’s favourite method of bringing out a grave truth from a
familiar colloquy.

“There was one Aristodemus, a little man, well known in Athens, not
only as one who never either sacrificed to the gods or used
divination, but as laughing and jeering at those who did so. This man
Socrates one day happened to meet, and knowing his tendencies
addressed him at once thus. Tell me, Aristodemus, are there any
persons whom you admire particularly for their wisdom? That there are,
he replied. Well, said Socrates, let me hear the names of a few.
Homer, said the other, for epic poetry; Melanippides for dithyrambs;
for tragedy, Sophocles; {72} for sculpture, Polycleitus; for painting,
Zeuxis. Then tell me this, which is worthy of the greater admiration,
the artist who makes figures which have neither life nor intelligence,
or He who makes animals that have both life and intelligence? This
artist, of course, said Aristodemus; for such animals would not be
made by chance, but by calculation. Well then, of two classes of
things, whereof the one has manifestly been constructed for some
useful end, and the other, so far as one can see, for no end at all,
which would you call the product of calculation? Of course the things
made for some useful end. Now answer me this,--He who made men at
first, and gave them senses to bring them into contact with the
outward world, eyes to see and ears to hear, did He furnish them with
these organs for a useful purpose or for no purpose at all? and as for
odours and smells, if we had not nostrils, so far as we are concerned
they might as well not have existed; and how could we have had any
perception of sweet and sour, and all agreeable tastes, had we not
been furnished with a tongue to take, cognisance of such sensations?
Observe further, how the eye, being naturally a tender organ, is
supplied with eyelids as a house with a door, which may be opened to
receive pleasant guests, and closed when danger approaches; the
eye-lashes also manifestly serve as a sort of sieve to prevent the
passage of any injurious particles which the wind might drive against
the pupil, while the eyebrows form a sort of coping or fence which
prevents the sweat from the forehead flowing into the organ of vision.
Not less wonderful is it that the ear is so formed as to be able to
take in an uncounted number of various sounds, and {73} yet is never
filled; and in the mouth we are instantly met with the remarkable fact
in all animals, that, while the front teeth, which take up the food,
are formed for cutting, the back teeth, which receive it from them,
are adapted for the after operation of grinding; observe also the
situation of the great organ of nourishment, close to eyes and the
nostrils, which keep a watch against the approach of unhealthy food;
while on the other hand, that part of the food which is useless for
nutrition, being naturally offensive, is carried off by ducts and
passages placed at as great a distance as possible from the organs of
sensation. All these contrivances, so manifestly proceeding from a
purpose, can we doubt whether we should call works of chance or of
intellect? Looking at the matter in this light, certainly, said the
little man, I can have no hesitation in saying these are the
contrivances of a very wise and benevolent designer. Consider further,
continued Socrates, how there is implanted in all animals a desire of
continuing their species, how the parents have a pleasure in breeding,
and the offspring are above all things distinguished by the love of
life and the fear of death. These also, he said, seem to be the
contrivances of some Being who wished that animals should exist. Then,
continued Socrates, consider yourself--do you believe that there is
something in you which we call Intelligence? and, if in you, whence
came it? is there no intelligence in the world outside of you? Your
body, you perceive, is made up of certain very small portions of solid
and liquid elements, of which vast quantities exist beyond you, and of
which your body is a part; and if your body is taken from such a vast
storehouse of matter, is your mind the only {74} part of you which is
underived from any source, and which you seem to have snapped up
somehow by good luck? and is it possible, or in any way conceivable,
that all this gigantic and beautifully ordered form of things which we
call the world should have jumped into its present consistency from
mere random forces without calculation? Scarcely; but then I do not
see the authors of the world as I do of works which men produce here.
As little do you see your own soul, said Socrates, which yet is the
lord of your body, so that, taking your own logic strictly, you must
conclude that you do all things by chance and nothing by calculation.
Well then, said Aristodemus, the fact is that I do not despise the
Divine Power,[74.1] but I esteem all Divine natures too mighty and too
glorious to require any service from me. For this reason rather they
justly claim our regard, said Socrates, their might and their glory
being the natural measure of the honour which they ought to receive
from us. Well, be assured, Socrates, that if I could only imagine that
the gods had any concern for us, I should not neglect them. And do you
really mean to affirm that they actually have no concern for us? Why,
consider what they have done for you; in the first place giving you an
erect stature, which they gave to no other animal, a stature by virtue
of which you not only see better before you, but can look upwards
also, and defend yourself in many ways which with downcast eyes were
impossible; and in the next place, not content with giving you feet,
like other animals, they have furnished {75} you with hands also, the
organs by which we practise most of those acts which manifest our
superiority to them;[75.1] and, to crown all, while other animals have
a tongue, man alone possesses this organ of such a nature that by
touching the hollow of the mouth with it in various ways he can mould
the emitted voice into articulate speech, significant of what thought
wishes to communicate to thought. Again, the love which is a passion
that stirs other animals only at certain seasons of the year, man is
capable of enjoying at all seasons; and not only do our capacities of
bodily efficiency and enjoyment so far surpass those of other animals,
but God (ὁ Θεός) has implanted in man a soul of the most
transcendent capacity. For what other animal, I ask, has a soul which
enables it to own and to acknowledge the existence of the gods, who
have disposed all this mighty order of things of which we are a part?
What race of animals except man pays any worship to the gods?[75.2]
What animal possesses a soul so fit as that of man to guard against
the inclemencies of the weather, to prevent or cure disease, to train
to bodily strength or to intellectual acuteness? and what animal when
it has learned anything can retain the lesson with equal tenacity? Is
it not rather plain that, compared with other animals, men live really
as gods upon the earth, so strikingly superior {76} are they both in
bodily and intellectual endowments; for neither could a creature with
man’s reason, but with the body of an ox, have been able fully to
execute its purposes; nor, again, could a creature with human hands,
but without human intellect, be able to go beyond the brute stage of
animal life; and after all this, heaped up as you are with bounties
and blessings from all sides, will you still persist in thinking that
you are a creature neglected by the gods? What, I ask, do you expect
them to do for you before they shall have any just claim to your
regard? I shall expect them, replied Aristodemus, to do for me what
you say they do for you, to send me advisers as to what I ought to do
and what I ought not to do. Be it so; and do you think that your case
is not already provided for, when the gods on being consulted through
divination give an answer which concerns all Athenians? or do you
imagine when the Greeks, or the whole human race, are warned of coming
evil by a portent, that you are specially excluded from the benefit of
that divine indication? Do you imagine that the gods would have
implanted in all human breasts the feeling that they are able to do us
good or evil, if they did not possess this power, or that men
constantly being deceived by this notion would not by this time have
discovered the delusion? Have you not observed also that the wisest
nations and the most stable governments are those which are the most
religious, and that individual men are then most piously inclined when
their reason is strongest and their passions most under control?
Believe me, my dear young friend, that as your soul within you moves
and manages the body even as it wills, so we ought {77} to believe
that the Intelligence which indwelleth the whole of things makes and
designs all things according to its good pleasure, and not to imagine
that while our human eye can reach many miles in vision, the Divine
eye should not be able to see all things at a glance, nor that, while
your soul can manage matters not here in Athens only, but in Egypt and
Sicily, the intelligence of the Divine Being (τοῦ Θεοῦ) is
not able to exercise a comprehensive care at once over the whole and
each individual In the same way therefore as by performing acts of
kindness to men you come to learn those who are disposed to show
kindness to you in return, and as by conferring with men on important
matters you know who are able to give sound advice on such matters, if
with this disposition you approach the gods, making trial of them if
belike they are willing to reveal to you any of those things which are
naturally unknown to men, then you will certainly learn by experience
that the Divine nature (τὸ θεῖον) is of such a kind as to be
able to see all things, and to hear all things, and to be everywhere
present, and to have a providential care of all things.”

So concludes this interesting dialogue, and the sympathetic reporter
in winding it up adds, “The tendency of such discourses appears to
me plainly to induce men to abstain from unholy and unjust and foul
deeds, not only when they are seen of men, but also in a lonely
wilderness, living constantly under the conviction that whatever men
do, and in whatever place, they can in nowise escape the eye of the
Omniscient.”

Let us now make a few remarks on the theological argument, or the
argument from design, here sketched {78} in such broad and masterly
lines. It is an argument, when taken in the gross, and in its grand
outline, so striking and so convincing, that it is only by confining
the eye to a few minute and unessential points that certain precise
and puzzling minds have conceited themselves that they were able to
blunt the edge of its force. One class of objectors, unfortunately not
at all uncommon in recent times, have imagined that they have refuted
Paley’s famous argument from the watch found on a waste heath, by
saying that there is no analogy between a piece of human manufacture
like a watch, and a living growth like a plant or an animal. Very
true, so far; a growth is a growth, and a manufacture is a
manufacture; the one possesses inherent divine vitality, the other no
vitality at all; but what follows? Not that an animal and a plant have
nothing in common, but only that they have not the principle of
vitality in common; not that the animal may not be constructed on the
same principles of design and adaptation on which the watch is
constructed, but that the animal to the curious machinery has
something superadded which we call life. The fact of the matter is,
that Dr. Paley’s argument would hold equally good if the designing
soul that made the supposed watch, instead of being outside in the
shape of a watch-maker, had been inside, as the principle of vitality
is in a plant; then we should have called the watch a plant or an
animal, and the design would have spoken out from its structure as
manifestly as before. There is therefore no difference, so far as
design and calculation are concerned, between a cunningly constituted
growth and a curiously compacted machine. Another class of objectors
are fond to tell us that things are not {79} what they are by virtue
of any inherent calculated type, but by a combination of complex
conditions and circumstances, which in the course of millions of
millions of ages work themselves happily into a consistent organism.
This is just Epicurus back again in his naked absurdity, almost indeed
in the same senseless phraseology; as we may see, for instance, in the
following passage from the _Westminster Review_, on which in the
course of my reading I accidentally stumbled:--“The positive method
makes very little account of marks of intelligence; in its wider view
of phenomena it sees that these incidents are a minority, and _may
rank as happy coincidences_; it absorbs them in the singular
conception of LAW.” Let us attempt to analyse this utterance. It
is the boast of the Comtian philosophy to find intelligence in the
works of Auguste Comte, but not in the works of the Architect of the
universe. Let that pass. In the next place it is indicated that it is
a narrow view of things which discovers DESIGN in creation; a larger
view reveals LAW; and the few incidents that may seem to indicate
design are perhaps better explained by the old Epicurean method of the
“fortuitous concourse of atoms.” Never was a greater amount of
incoherence crammed into a short sentence. The inference which Dr.
Paley drew from his watch is not in the least affected by the
narrowness of the view which the inspection of a watch necessitates;
nor would the striking evidence of a design in the structure of that
little telescope the human eye, be diminished in the least by
extending the view to the largest telescope ever made, or to the
largest human body in the watch-tower of which a human eye was ever
placed. The only legitimate consequence of {80} mounting from the
contemplation of an eye, merely as an eye, to its consideration as
part of a large organism called the human body, would be to increase
admiration by the discovery that the little design of the instrument
was subservient to the large design of the body, as if, after admiring
a small chamber in a vast building, and praising the cunning of the
architect, we should walk through the whole suite of rooms and then
discover some new beauty in the chamber having reference to the great
whole of which it was a part. But instead of this our author informs
us that this wider view “absorbs the original feeling of design into
the singular conception of LAW.” Applied to the supposed case of
the small chamber in the large palace, this is flat nonsense. For the
“singular conception of LAW,” in this case, is just the large
plan of the whole building, which, along with the small plan of each
part, proceeded from the comprehensive intellect of the architect.
What is LAW? The reasoning in the above passage implies that it is
something contrary to design, something that absorbs it, nay more,
something that reduces it to the category of a “happy coincidence.”
But Law is only a steady self-consistent method of operation, which
explains nothing; it is only a fact; and if in this method of
operation there be manifest order and purpose of producing a reasoned
and consistent result, the law then becomes a manifestation of design,
as in the original application of the word to the work of a lawgiver,
a Solon or a Lycurgus whose laws certainly implied a calculated
purpose of reform and re-organization; or, to take again the watch,
the law by which this tiny worker goes, is only the single word which,
describes that {81} ordered complex of calculated movements which the
design of the maker puts into play, for the purpose of marking the
regular lapse of time. The discovery of a great law, therefore, in an
ordered and calculated system of things, such as the world, may
enlarge the field in which design is exhibited, but, so far from
absorbing, can only tend to make that design more prominent. So much
for Comte. But what shall we say of Darwin? If that original and
ingenious investigator of nature really does mean to say that there
are no original types of things in the Divine mind (I use Platonic
language purposely, because it is the only language that satisfies the
demands of the case), and that a rose became a lily, or a lily a rose,
by some external power called “natural selection,”--I reply that I
shall believe this when I see it; that a modifying influence is one
thing, and a plastic force another; and that, as an able Hegelian
philosopher remarks,[81.1] a selection producing not a random but a
reasonable result always implies some principle of selection, and a
selecting agency--that is, the Socratic designing Intellect.

But there are greater names than those of Comte and Darwin, who have
been quoted as oracular denouncers of all teleology--two of the
greatest indeed of all modern names. Bacon and Goethe. The dictum of
the great father of modern physical science, that teleology is a
barren virgin, has been often repeated. Now, as Bacon was a pious man,
at least a religious philosopher, he certainly cannot have meant
Atheism by this; what then did he mean? {82} This question will be
best answered by considering what Bacon’s attitude as a philosopher
was. He was not, like Aristotle, a calm judicial speculator, making a
tabulated register of all knowledge; he was rather like Martin Luther,
a man of war; and as the ecclesiastical reformer’s life and doctrine
derive all their significance from the abuses of the Papacy which they
overthrew, so Bacon’s position as a polemical thinker is to be
interpreted only with reference to the school of thinking which he
attacked. That school was a school fruitful in theories, discussions,
and sounding generalities of all kinds, which afforded ample exercise
to intellectual athletes, but produced no practical result. To put an
end to this vague and unprofitable talk, the British Bacon, with the
same practical instinct which guided the Attic Socrates, though in an
opposite direction, set himself to establish a scientific method, a
method specially calculated by the interrogation of nature to
ascertain facts, and from the careful comparison of facts to educe
laws. With these investigations into elementary scientific facts the
general philosophical principle of final causes had nothing directly
to do; nay, it might even act perniciously in an age which had not yet
learned the art of careful experiment by accustoming men in an
indolent sort of way to spin ingenious theories about the final causes
of certain arrangements in the universe, before they had taken pains
to ascertain what these arrangements actually were. And when we
consider how vast a machine the Cosmos is, and how great the ignorance
of us curious emmets who set ourselves to interpret its hieroglyphics,
and to spell its scripture, it will be obvious that a warning against
the ready luxury of speculating on final {83} causes was one of the
most necessary utterances that might come from the mouth of a reformer
of scientific method. However far men may rise through the long
gradation of secondary causes up to the First Cause, and by the slow
steps of progress which we call means to a final result, the
preliminary question of course always is, _What are the facts?_ and
till these be accurately ascertained Bacon was fully justified in
saying that speculation about final causes is a barren virgin and
produces no offspring. But this wise abstinence from assigning final
causes at any particular stage of physical research is a quite
different thing from saying absolutely that there are no marks of
design in the universe, and that those most obvious things which from
Socrates downwards have been generally esteemed such, may in the
phraseology of a higher philosophy “rank as happy coincidences.”
The humble admiration of final causes in the world by the intelligent
worshipper is one thing, the hasty interpretation of them by every
forward religionist is another thing. The works of God are not to be
expounded, nor His ends and aims descanted on by every talker who may
discourse with fluent propriety on the works of a human toy-maker like
himself. Such we may feel confidently was Bacon’s point of view in
reference to teleological questions. As for Goethe, who was a
scientific investigator of scarcely less note than a poet, his remark
to Eckermann on this subject shows that his point of view was exactly
the same. Not WHY, or FOR WHAT PURPOSE, or WITH WHAT OBJECT, he
says, is the way of putting the question by which science may be
profited; the true scientific question is always HOW. Of this there
can be no doubt, “_Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere {84}
causas!_” the physical inquirer is primarily concerned to know--_how
did this come about?_ by what curiously concatenated series of
operations, starting from a certain point beyond which we cannot rise,
are certain results produced? Answer this and science is satisfied;
but in being so satisfied it proves itself to be a thing of secondary
and ancillary significance, resting, like the mathematician’s
demonstrations, on principles which it belongs to a superior science
to evolve. The whole doctrine of causes, efficient as well as final,
belongs to philosophy, to that grand doctrine of fundamental realities
which dictates to mere science both its starting-point and its goal.
But not even in this view is it altogether correct to say that the
consideration of design has nothing to do with purely scientific
investigations, and by the purely scientific man had better be
ignored. All we can say is, that it is better that it should be
ignored in certain cases than falsely presumed. But in a world where
everything is under the government of Law, which is merely the
expression of reason and the manifestation of design, nothing could be
more Arbitrary and more perverse than the systematic exclusion of
final causes from the philosophy of nature. So far from this, it is
certain there can be no philosophy of nature without them; if indeed
atheism can be called a philosophy, and in this nineteenth century,
Moses and Plato and the Apostle Paul may be cast from their throne to
make way for a resuscitated Greek Epicurus in the person of a
conceited French dogmatist! We shall therefore conclude, in accordance
with the teaching of Socrates, that an open eye for final causes not
only belongs to wisdom, but may often advance science, when proceeding
{85} cautiously upon the due observation and connexion of facts;
inasmuch as, in the words of an able metaphysician, “this universe
is not an accidental cavity in which an accidental dust has been
accidentally swept into heaps for the accidental evolution of the
majestic spectacle of organic and inorganic life. That majestic
spectacle is a spectacle as plainly for the eye of reason as any
diagram of the mathematician. That majestic spectacle could have been
constructed, was constructed, only in reason, for reason, and by
reason; and therefore everywhere, from the smallest particle, to the
largest system, moulded and modelled and inhabited by DESIGN.”[85.1]

The theological convictions of Socrates being so strong and so
decided, it followed as a necessary consequence, in a person of so
practical a character, that he should be a pious man, and that he
should practise those rites and services by which the dependent
position of man towards the gods is most naturally and effectively
expressed. If man, as was taught in the above extract, is the only
animal capable of religion, then the worship of the Supreme
Intelligence becomes the peculiar sign, privilege, and glory of his
humanity. An irreligious man, a speculative or practical atheist, is
as a sovereign who voluntarily takes off his crown and declares
himself unworthy to reign. Religious worship, therefore, being an act
which a man is specially bound to perform in virtue of his humanity,
neither Socrates nor any other pious heathen thinker could have any
doubt as to the peculiar forms and ceremonies that ought to constitute
this act. For all the heathens,--certainly {86} all Greeks and
Romans,--held that religion was an essential function of the State,
that Church and State, as we phrase it, are one and inseparable,
consequently that every good subject owed allegiance to the religious
traditions and observances of his countrymen, just as he did to the
civil laws.[86.1] The gods were to be worshipped by every good citizen
in every state,--νόμῳ πόλεως,--or, as we would say, according to the
law of the land; and as the religions of Greece and Rome were not
fenced with bristling dogmas in the shape of what we call a {87} Creed
and Church Articles, but floated quite freely in the region of
reverential tradition, while, at the same time, in those days, no man
ever dreamed of haying a religion for himself any more than of having
a civil government for himself, the conformity even of great thinkers
to the popular faith was not naturally accompanied by any taint of
that species of insincerity which has so often attached to the
subscription of modern articles of belief. The right {88} of private
judgment was exercised by the Greeks only in the domain of
philosophical speculation; for teaching the results of these
speculations they established schools; but the idea of protesting and
dissenting and making a private business of religion, for the
maintenance of certain ceremonies, forms of church-government, or
favourite doctrines, could never have occurred to them. Neither are we
to think it strange if, even as a matter of speculation, minds of
great original power, like that of Socrates, should feel no
intellectual repugnance to the main principles of a polytheistic
faith. There is nothing fundamentally absurd in Polytheism, provided
only a wise superintendent Providence be established somewhere to
overrule the democratic assembly of subordinate gods; and this the
Greeks had prominently in the person of Zeus.[88.1] The other gods,
like the angels in the Christian theology, however much their power
might be exaggerated by the reverence of particular localities, were
in the comprehensive survey of a philosophic mind only the ministers
of his supreme will, working harmoniously along with him in the
sustainment of the divine fabric of the universe. With this view of
Polytheism, pious-minded men such as Socrates, Xenophon, and Plutarch
could be perfectly satisfied; and the extravagant and immoral stories
about the gods, which excited the bile of Xenophanes and Plato, needed
not necessarily to give them any offence. For why? these stories were
{89} matter of popular belief, not of intellectual decision or of
sacerdotal dictation. A great national poet, like Pindar, might
explain, or explain away, in the public assembly of the Greeks, any
legends that appeared to him to contain matter unworthy of his lofty
conception of the gods. So of course might a philosopher like
Socrates. The peasants round Athens believed that the Wind Boreas came
down in human form, and carried off the nymph Oreithyia from the banks
of the Ilissus; this might or might not be true; Socrates certainly
was not bound te believe it; and, as he himself tells us in the
Phædrus, he was too busy with more important matters to trouble
himself with inquiring into the truth or falsehood of sacred legends
in a country where every fountain had its peculiar worship, and every
river its divine genealogy. This easy dealing with questions about
legends, however, did not in the least imply any want of sincerity in
the attitude of doubting thinkers towards the main articles of the
Polytheistic creed; on the contrary, the more pliable the legend the
less danger was there of its standing in the way of an honest
acceptance of the broad fundamental points of the general creed; and
it is an altogether gratuitous supposition in a late distinguished
writer[89.1] to suppose that when Socrates at his death gave as a
dying injunction to his friends to sacrifice a cock, which he had
vowed, to Æsculapius, he did this merely from the effect of habit,
and that he really did not believe in the existence of the god whom
the injunction immediately concerned. While the general evidence of
the adherence of Socrates both {90} in theory and practice to the
popular creed is so strong, we have no right in any particular
instance to set him down as insincere. Of his general sincerity on
these matters there certainly can be no doubt. It is set forth
distinctly in more than one dialogue of Xenophon, and harmonizes
exactly with all that we read in Plato. The philosopher used the
common kinds of divination practised by his countrymen, and gave
special directions as to the subjects on which a wise man should
consult the gods, and on which he should seek for direction from them
rather than from his own reason. We have special testimony to the fact
that on one occasion (see above, page 11) he, after a long period
of pious meditation, offered up a prayer to the Sun; and one of the
Platonic dialogues concludes with a prayer of Socrates in the
following curt and significant style:--

“O dear Pan, and ye other gods who frequent this spot, grant me, in
the first place, to be good within; and as for outward circumstances,
may they be such as harmonize well with my inward capacities. Grant me
ever to esteem the wise man as the alone wealthy man; and as for gold,
may I possess as much of it as a man of moderate desires may know to
use wisely.”

So much for the theological belief and unaffected piety of this great
man. How intimately he held Religion and Morality to be bound together
will best appear from the following dialogue with the Sophist Hippias,
on the foundation of natural right and positive law. We give it at
length, as it has a direct bearing on some fundamental principles of
general jurisprudence which have been largely debated in this country,
from Locke down to Bentham and Mill.

“Is it not strange, Hippias, said Socrates, that {91} when a man
wishes to have his son taught shoemaking or carpentry or any trade, he
has no difficulty in finding a master to whom he may send him for
instruction? nay, I have even heard that there are training masters
who will teach a horse or an ox to do what they ought to do. But if I
wish for myself or my son or my servant, to know the principles of
what is right and just, I look in vain for any source whence I might
get instruction in these important matters. There you are, said
Hippias (who had just returned to Athens after a long absence)--there
you are saying exactly the same things that you were saying when I
left you! Very true, said Socrates, and not only do I say the same
things always, but always about the same things, while you, I presume,
on account of your multiform knowledge, on no occasion require to
repeat any old truths. Well, I readily confess that I always prefer,
when I can, to bring out something new. Do you then mean to say that
even when you know a thing thoroughly, and have occasion to speak
about it frequently, you can always continue to say something new? as,
for example, if any one were to ask you with how many letters to spell
Socrates, would you give one reply to-day and another to-morrow? or
again, if he should ask if twice five are ten, or any other question
of arithmetic, would you give different answers at different times?
With regard to matters of that kind, O Socrates, there can be no
variation; but with regard to what is JUST and RIGHT a man may
constantly make new discoveries, as I think I am in a condition to say
something on that subject today, to which neither you nor any man in
Athens could put in a demurrer. Now, by Hera! said {92} Socrates, if
you have really discovered anything important in this province, any
charm that might save a jury from the pain of giving a divided
verdict, or good citizens from the necessity of brawling and wrangling
with one another, or mighty States from ruining each other by wars,
you have made a discovery indeed for which I envy you--and I really do
not know how I can let you quit me at present till I have drawn from
you the secret of this discovery. That you shall not do, by Jove! said
the Sophist, before you first tell me what your own views are on the
subject of RIGHT; for this is an old trick of yours, by captious
questions to worm answers out of other people, and laugh at them when
they are made to contradict themselves, while you refuse to stand
question, or pronounce a definite opinion on any point. How can you
say this, O Hippias, when you perceive that I am continually employed
in doing nothing but bringing to light my notions on right and wrong?
In what discourse did you bring this to light, O Socrates? If not in a
set discourse, replied the philosopher, certainly by actions; or do
you not think that a deed is a much more effective way of declaring a
man’s moral principles than a word? More effective unquestionably;
for of those who say what is just many do what is unjust; but if a
man’s actions are just there is no injustice in him. Well then,
Hippias, I ask you, did you ever know me either bearing false witness
or playing the informer, or exciting discontent among the people; or
doing any other wrong action? Certainly not. But is not abstaining
from what is wrong the definition of what is right? There you are
again! said Hippias; I catch you in the act; you are {93} wriggling
cunningly out of the position, and instead of telling me what just men
do, you tell me what they don’t do. I did so because I honestly
thought that to abstain from all unjust deeds was a sufficient proof
of the existence of justice in the breast of the actor. But if a
negative answer does not satisfy you, then take this--I say that Right
is conformity to the laws (τὸ νόμιμον δίκαιον εἶναι). Do you then
literally mean to say that Right and Law are identical? I do. Well,
then, I must tell you, in the first place, that I do not understand
what you mean by Law and Right. You know the laws of the State, I
presume? Of course. What then are the laws of the State? The laws of
the State, said he, are all the enactments which the people have made
when they have agreed among themselves as to what things ought to be
done and what things ought not to be done. Then, said Socrates, that
person would act according to law who obeyed those enactments, and he
would be a lawless person who transgressed them? Unquestionably. Then
I presume the man who did according to law would act according to
rights while the man who transgressed the law would do wrong? Of
course. Then you admit that the man who observes law, and the just
man, or the man who acts according to right, are identical, and the
transgressor of law and the unjust man in the same way? This sounds
very well, said Hippias; but how can rectitude, or right, be measured
by the standard of laws which the very persons who make them are often
the first to repudiate,--enacting the exact contrary? That is not so
very strange, said Socrates, for the same parties who declare war
to-day may {94} make peace to-morrow. Of course they may, he replied.
Well, then, I do not comprehend with what distinction you maintain
that, whereas persons who observe the rights of war to-day and the
rights of peace to-morrow are not charged with inconsistency, persons
obeying any other laws to-day which may be reversed to-morrow are
chargeable with unsettling the principles of right; or do you really
mean to stand up as a universal peacemonger, and to say that those who
serve their country well in war are guilty of a crime? Far from it,
said he. Right, said Socrates; for obedience to the laws is really in
every good citizen the one thing needful; and Lycurgus, the famous
Spartan, would have been not a whit better than other legislators had
he not by his institutions worked into the very blood of the people a
habit of obedience to the laws; and is it not plain that in all States
those governors are universally esteemed the best who know how best to
make their laws obeyed, and that the State where the habit of
obedience is most confirmed is always the most prosperous in peace and
the most invincible in war? Nay more, is not concord universally
praised as the greatest good of States, and do not our venerable
senators and our best leaders of the people continually exhort men to
this virtue? and is it not a fact that in every Greek State there is a
special oath taken by the citizens that they will cultivate concord,
and above all things shun strife and sedition among themselves? Now I
do not conceive that in the prominence thus given to concord it was
held forth as desirable that all the citizens should be of the same
mind with regard to choruses or flute-players or poets and their
performances, but what was intended is that the citizens {95} should
above all things obey the laws: for so long as these are generally
acknowledged, States will be strong and prosperous, but without
concord neither house nor family can stand. Each individual also of a
community can thrive only in this way; the man who obeys the laws will
always incur less loss and gain more honour than the lawless man; and
in the courts, having the law on his side, he will more readily gain
his case. And to whom, I ask, would you intrust your property, or your
son, or your wife, preferably to the man who fears to violate the
laws? in whom will the public authorities more readily confide? From
whom more than from the observer of the laws may parents or relations,
or friends or citizens or guests, reasonably expect to receive their
due? to whom would enemies rather commit the negotiation of truces and
treaties? with whom preferably would any State wish to form an
alliance? to whom would his allies with greater security intrust the
defence of any position, or the command of any detachment? from whom
would a benefactor sooner expect to receive a grateful return for the
benefit conferred? whom would a man sooner choose for his friend, and
more wisely shun as an enemy? In every situation of life the man who
respects law is the person whom one would be most benefited by having
for his friend, and most damaged by having for his enemy; and, on
these grounds, I consider myself justified in concluding generally, O
Hippias, that the man who obeys the law, and the just man, or the man
who does the right, is one and the same character; and if you have any
objections to this doctrine, I should like much to hear them. By Jove!
said Hippias, I think I am not able to {96} state any valid objections
to what you have said! Tell me, O Hippias, did you ever hear of what
we might call UNWRITTEN LAWS? Yes; those laws I presume you mean
which are the same in all countries. Can we say, then, do you imagine,
that men made such laws? How could that be? men could neither come
together for such a purpose, nor, if they did, could they ever agree.
Who, then, do you think laid down these laws? In my opinion, the gods;
for amongst all men the universal instinct is to acknowledge the gods.
Reverence to parents, I presume, falls under the same category--for
this is a universal practice. I agree. Then shall we say that the gods
are also the authors of the law forbidding sexual intercourse between
parents and their offspring? No; I cannot call this a law coming
directly from the gods. Why not? Because I see certain, men
transgressing this law; it is not universal. But the transgression of
a law does not make it less a law; men break many laws; but in the
case of the divine laws a penalty waits on the transgressor which it
is impossible to escape, as men may, and not seldom do, escape the
consequences of violated human laws, whether by persistently
undermining or violently overriding them. But what penalty, Socrates,
I should like to know, do parents and children incur who practise
incestuous intercourse? The greatest of all penalties, the begetting
of children in a bad way. But how bad? for being good themselves, that
is in good health and of a good stock, what comes from good must of
necessity be good. But you forget, rejoined Socrates, that in the
procreation of children we must consider not only the original
goodness of the stock, but also {97} that the bodies of both
individuals concerned in the act should be in their prime; or do you
perhaps imagine that from unripe bodies, or bodies sinking into decay,
an equally vigorous and healthy seed can flow, as from those which are
in their best condition? Certainly not, said Hippias. Then it is
plain, said Socrates, that the offspring of such intercourse would not
be procreated under favourable natural conditions, and according to
the unwritten law of nature are for this reason bad and wrong. Take
now another instance: ingratitude, I presume, you will grant is always
and everywhere wrong, while to repay kindness by kindness is
everywhere an act in harmony with law. Certainly; but this law also is
frequently transgressed. Yes; and the transgression brings with it its
own punishment, in that the violators of this law are at once deprived
of good friends, and forced to cultivate the goodwill of those who
they know must hate them;--for are not those who confer benefits on
their friends good friends, and do not those who never return
obligations to such friends, make themselves hated by them, while, at
the same time, on account of the benefits which may accrue from such
connexion, they are obliged to go on courting those very persons by
whom they are hated? Now, by Jove, said Hippias, I must confess that
here I do see plain traces of a divine law; for that laws should bring
along with them their own penalty when broken, is a most rare device,
to which no mere human legislator has ever yet been able to attain.
Well then, Hippias, do you think that the gods, when they make laws,
make them in accordance with right, or with what is contrary to right?
Not with what is contrary, assuredly; {98} for if laws are to be made
in accordance with absolute right, the gods are the only powers that
can make them perfectly. And so, Hippias, to finish our long
discourse, we conclude that WITH THE GODS LAW AND RIGHT ARE
IDENTICAL.”

Now, without maintaining the perfect propriety or sufficiency of all
the examples put forward in this argument, the general principles of
it state the fundamental axioms of moral philosophy in a way which
might have saved a certain modern school of ethical writers volumes of
ingenious sophistry, if they had but possessed the natural amount of
reverence and knowledge which would have enabled them to appreciate
what was good and true in the discourses of the great fathers of their
own science. For the unwritten laws whose authority the Athenian
evangelist here so eloquently asserts, in goodly harmony with the
noble Hebrew prophet (Jeremiah xxxi. 33) before him, and the heroic
apostle of the Gentiles (Romans ii. 15) four centuries and a half
later, are just the natural and necessary fruit of those innate human
actions and divinely implanted instincts in the region of emotion and
volition, which Locke, in an evil day for British philosophy, thought
it incumbent on him to deny, and by the denial of which a whole school
of meagre moralists, from Hume to John Stuart Mill, have either
dragged themselves ingloriously in the mire, or entangled themselves
in a tissue of the sorriest sophistries. In this dialogue also we see
how ably the common sense of the great logical missionary of Greece
fought its way through that most inconclusive argument against the
immutability of moral distinctions derived from the strange and
abnormal habits of certain savage tribes. {99} A law is not the less a
law, replied Socrates to the sophistical Hippias, because it may be
sometimes or frequently transgressed; and a divine instinct is not the
less divine because there are found false instincts and morbid
sensibilities in individual men, or even in whole tribes. The type of
any race of animals is not to be taken from monsters, nor is the law
of the variations of the magnetic needle near ferruginous rocks or in
an iron vessel to be paraded as a proof that there is no such thing as
magnetic polarity. According to the argument of Socrates, as Aristotle
also teaches, the aberrations from the norm of human morality in
certain persons or tribes, which so confounded Locke, are no more to
be held as arguments against the eternity of innate moral distinctions
than the existence of sporadic disease or degenerated types of body
can be considered as disproving the fact of health, or the braying of
an incidental ass, or even a troop of asses, can be taken as a
refutation of one of Beethoven’s symphonies.

On the political opinions and conduct of Socrates a very few words
will suffice. We have seen above (p. 14) that, like the apostle
Paul, and the preachers of the gospel generally, he kept himself out
of all political entanglement; nevertheless as a notable and prominent
citizen in what, notwithstanding its great celebrity, we cannot but
call a small democratic State, he could not avoid occasionally talking
on subjects of public interest, and giving his opinion freely on the
conduct of public men. To have done otherwise indeed would have been
to have imposed silence on himself in regard to not a few matters
which belonged as much to his moral mission as anything that concerned
the conduct of private {100} individuals; it would have been also to
incur the charge of apathy, indifference and cowardice, than which
nothing could have been more hurtful to his influence as a moral
teacher. Accordingly, in the book of Xenophon there are not wanting
indications of his political tendencies, which we shall here attempt
summarily to state.

His fundamental position in regard to all political duties was, as we
may have gathered from the conversation with Hippias, the supreme
obligation on every good citizen to obey the existing laws. In this
sacred, and sometimes, one might feel inclined to think, over
scrupulous reverence for law, he agrees with the apostle Paul, but
runs directly counter to the received maxims of all democracy, both
ancient and modern; for reverence is not an emotion which democracy
cherishes; and an impassioned majority is apt to consider every law a
usurpation, which applies a drag to its impetuousness or a bridle to
its wilfulness.

Whether he was in heart a republican after the Attic type,
like Aristotle, or, like his illustrious disciples Plato and
Xenophon, cherished a reactionary partiality for the Spartan or
monarchico-aristocratic form of government, is difficult to say.
Certainly in the _Memorabilia_ there is nothing that savours of an
admiration of absolutism, or a blind reverence for Sparta; and though
there was in his time a current notion--arising out of recent
political misfortunes--that the Athenian character had degenerated, we
find him, in a remarkable conversation with young Pericles, rather
disposed to vindicate than to exaggerate the faults of his democratic
fellow-citizens. At the same time, it is quite certain that as a
philosopher, and a man free to look at {101} public affairs from an
impartial position, he did not approve of certain principles fondly
cherished in the practice of the democracy of which he was a member.
If therefore in his heart he wished a democracy at all, he must have
wished it, as Aristotle also did, under those checks, and with that
tempering admixture of the aristocratic element which would constitute
it what Aristotle calls a πολιτεία, and what we should call a
moderate republic, or a popular government not founded on mere liberty
and equality, and not subject to the overbearing sway of a mere
numerical majority. For in the existing democracy of Athens we find
him attributing the military mishaps of his countrymen to the
circumstance that their officers had no professional training, and the
generals of the army were in fact for the most part extemporized.[101.1]
This was no doubt a very vulnerable point of the democracy; for we
find Philip of Macedon in the next century telling the Athenians
sarcastically that they were surely a very wonderful people, inasmuch
as they found ten generals to elect every year, whereas he in his
whole life had been able to find only one, Parmenio. And in the same
spirit the pungent father of the Cynics had told them, after a general
election, that they had better go and vote publicly that asses were
horses, which would certainly be more reasonable than to vote that
certain persons whom they had just stamped with the title of generals
were soldiers. As little could Socrates, as a thinking man, and a man
of lofty self-reliance, with a more than common amount {102} of moral
courage, approve either of the democratic device of choosing important
public officers by the blind chance of the ballot, or of that
unreasoned usage of all democracies, that a mixed multitude, huddled
into the vote, under the influence of sudden passion or subtle
intrigue, shall, by a mere numerical majority, decide on the most
critical questions, which require comprehensive survey, cool decision,
and impartial judgment. Again, as a man of truth, he had a special
objection to the method of governing in democracies by pandering to
the prejudices of the people rather than by opposing them; and above
all things he hated, and was constantly denouncing and exposing, that
meretricious and essentially hollow oratory which the man of the
people always must practise when the electors, on whose favour he is
dependent, have their opinions dictated by local interests and
personal passions, rather than by large considerations of public right
and the general good. Lastly, as a moralist, he knew that there is no
bait more seductive to the human mind than the love of power; to this
strong passion democracy applies a constant and potent stimulus; and
thus acts directly in bringing the worst and not the best men into
situations of public influence and trust; for good men are modest, and
more apt to feel the responsibilities than to covet the advantages of
political power. Thus far Socrates was decidedly, if not
anti-republican, at least anti-democratic; but we must bear in mind
also that he and, we may add, all the wise Greeks were equally or even
more opposed to the cold selfishness of a narrow oligarchy governing
for their own aggrandizement; and that, like every man with Hellenic
blood in his veins, he had an instinctive hatred of {103} tyranny and
oppression in every shape; and proved this, as Xenophon informs us, in
the most decided way, by publicly bearding two of the thirty tyrants,
and pursuing quietly his labours of love in their despite.

The prosecution and death of Socrates, which we must now sketch, is
one of the most interesting events in history,--useful also in a
special degree as a warning to that large class of persons who are
inclined to follow the multitude in all things, with unlimited faith
in the motto VOX POPULI VOX DEI. Never did a people, in this case a
particularly shrewd and intelligent people, cased in the hard panoply
of unreasoned tradition, under the distorting influence of prejudice,
the exaggerations of personal spite, and the smooth seductions of
popular oratory, commit an act of more daring defiance to every
principle of truth and justice. Happily we possess evidence of the
most distinct and indubitable description with regard both to the
nature of the charges brought against the philosopher and the
delusions which blinded his judges. In reference to the first point,
we have the very words of the indictment, given in the same terms by
both Plato and Xenophon. With regard to the second point, wherein the
real key to his condemnation lies, we have an ancient comedy--the
Clouds of Aristophanes--in which the state of public feeling and
popular prejudice in Athens in reference to the philosopher is brought
as vividly before us as if it had been a matter of yesterday. In this
play--one of the wisest certainly, and one of the most humorous, that
ever was written--Socrates is put forward as representing the
Sophists; and a picture is drawn of that class of persons, calculated
to stir up a whole host {104} of indignant feelings, patriotic and
personal, against the philosopher. No doubt the whole affair, so far
as Socrates was concerned, was a tissue of the grossest lies; but
neither those whose business it is to make jokes for the public, nor
the public, who find their pleasure in these jokes, have ever
displayed any very scrupulous care in sifting the materials of their
mirth. A popular comedy on any event of the day is popular, not
because it is true, but because it cleverly tricks out that view of
the matter which the multitude delights to think is true; it is the
proper pabulum of popular prejudice; and as such there can be no doubt
that the gross caricature of Socrates represented in Athens 423 B.C.
with great applause, was one of the principal feeders of those local
feelings and prejudices by which, twenty-three years afterwards, the
great preacher of righteousness was condemned. For we must bear in
mind that Socrates was not condemned by a bench of cool lawyers, such
as decide cases of heresy in the English Church, but by a jury or
popular assembly, most of whom had already prejudged the case; and
trial by jury, as large experience in this country has shown, may as
readily be made the willing instrument of popular passion, as the
strong bulwark against autocratic or oligarchic oppression. And all
these sources of evidence bring us to a conclusion which agrees
exactly with what might _a priori_ have been predicated from what we
know both of the special proclivities of the Athenian people and the
general tendencies of human beings, when acting in masses, under the
spur of great political or religious excitement.

To state the matter more articulately, the view of the philosopher’s
guilt taken by his accusers and the {105} majority of the jury who
condemned him, may be comprised under the following five points:--

(1.) Socrates was one of the Sophists; and to the superficial
undistinguishing eye of the general public of Athens, like any other
public, constitutionally impatient of distinctions, it was as natural
to confound the philosopher with his antagonists as it was to Tacitus
and other intelligent Romans to confound the first Christians with
their greatest enemies, the Jews. Whatever odium therefore in public
estimation attached to the profession and principles of a Sophist,
necessarily attached to Socrates, as one of the most prominent of the
class. He was accordingly assumed to be guilty under the following
heads of offence, all of which were truly applicable to the majority
of the class of men with whom he was identified.

(2.) The Sophists generally did not believe in the gods of their
country, and, more than that, they were sceptical, and even
atheistical, in their whole tone and attitude.

(3.) They did not believe in the immutability of moral distinctions,
teaching that all morality is based on positive law, custom, fashion,
association, or habit.

(4.) And their profession of these principles was the more dangerous,
that it was supported by a specious and plausible art of logic and
rhetoric, of which the professed object was, with an utter disregard
of truth, to make the worse appear the better reason.

(5.) The natural and actual effect of this teaching was to corrupt the
youth and undermine both domestic and civic morality.

{106}

This is the full view of the case, as one may gather it from the whole
pleadings; but more definitely and succinctly the actual indictment is
given by Xenophon in this single sentence:--“SOCRATES BEHAVES
WRONGFULLY IN NOT ACKNOWLEDGING THOSE AS GODS WHOM THE STATE HOLDS TO
BE GODS, AND IN INTRODUCING NEW GODS OF HIS OWN; HE ACTS WRONGFULLY
ALSO IN CORRUPTING THE YOUTH.”

Now the first question which arises on this charge is, whether such a
prosecution, according to the law of Athens, was justifiable at all;
and on this head we are happy to agree with the view of the case so
ably stated by Professor Zeller in his excellent work on the
Philosophy of the Greeks. The prosecution, we think, was not
justifiable; that is, even though the points had been proven, there
was no indictable offence. For though unquestionably both by Hellenic
and Roman law a public action lay in theory against all who did not
acknowledge the gods of the country, and no man was entitled to
entertain private gods without State authority; and though as a matter
of fact several eminent persons, such as Anaxagoras and Diagoras, had
even in the lifetime of Socrates been tried and banished for the
offence of impiety, yet the spirit of toleration was now so large, and
the license everywhere assumed had been so great, that to condemn an
honest thinker to death for simple heterodoxy, in the year 399 B.C.,
in Athens, was altogether inexcusable, and could be attributed only to
intense personal spite on the part of his prosecutors, and to the
crassest prejudice on the part of the jury who tried him.

But the case assumes a much more serious aspect, {107} when it stands
proven in the most distinct terms that, even had the prosecution in
point of legal practice been justifiable, the defendant as a matter of
fact was entirely innocent of all the charges in the indictment. Of
this ample evidence shines out in almost every page of the above
sketch; and more may be found by whoso cares to seek in almost every
chapter of Xenophon. There is no philosopher of antiquity in whom a
cheerful piety, according to the traditions of his country, and a
reasonable morality, were so happily combined. In this view he stands
out in remarkable completeness when compared whether with Confucius in
the far east, or with Aristotle in his own country. He stands also as
a representative man in this respect above Plato, and incarnates fully
both the piety and the philosophy of Athens, just as Chalmers was the
incarnation of the religion, the science, the fervour and the
practical sagacity of Scotland. Plato, on the other hand, though a man
of profound piety, as a transcendental speculator was too lofty in his
point of view to be able to reconcile himself to the familiar and
sensuous theology of Homer; while Aristotle was defective altogether
in the emotional part of his nature, and, like a true encyclopædist,
was content to register the gods whom he had not the heart to worship.
As to the new gods whom Socrates was said to have introduced, this
charge could only have arisen from some gross popular blunder about
the δαίμων or genius by whom he used to assert his conduct was
often guided. What this δαίμων really was we shall see by and
by; but even had it been a real familiar spirit, as was crudely
supposed, there was nothing in the idea of such spiritual intercourse
contrary to the {108} orthodox conceptions of heathen piety. The third
charge against him of corrupting the youth, was merely an application
of the charge of irreligion, with the obvious intention of rousing the
tender apprehensions of Athenian fathers who believed in the stout old
Marathonian sturdiness, and hated the subtle glibness of the rising
generation; for in fact, like the late distinguished Baron Bunsen,
Socrates was peculiarly the friend of young men, and specially zealous
for their good. The answer to such a charge was plain, and was similar
to that which might have been made by the Methodists of the last
century, when they were charged with leading away the people from the
Established Church: If you, the Churchmen, had taken care of the
people in the remote corners of Cornwall and Wales, we certainly
should never have interfered. So Socrates might well ask his accusers,
as we find in Plato’s Apology he did: “_If I corrupt the young
men, who improves them?_ It was simply because there was no person who
cared to instruct them in the principles of right that there was room
for me to come forward as a teacher at all. Your accusation of me is a
proof that you neglected your own work.” Why then, we are now
prepared to ask, was he condemned? The answer to this is unfortunately
only too obvious. The causes of his condemnation were five:--

(1.) Because his freedom of speech as a preacher of righteousness had
made him not a few enemies in influential quarters. Though entirely
free from every taint of bitterness or ill-will, and even playfully
tolerant to human weaknesses, the very reverse, as we have seen, of a
modern Calvin, the moment an argument was started he spared no party,
who, by {109} the application of the searching logical test, was found
to be a dealer in hollow superficialities or pretentious shams; poets,
orators, and politicians equally were made to feel the keen edge of
his reproof. Against all and each of these he had spoken more truth
than they could easily bear; and of that dangerous seed he was now to
reap the natural fruit. Truth, which was a jewel of great price to
him, was a nauseous drug to many; and the man who administered it
could not be looked on with friendly eyes. “_Am I become your enemy
because I tell you the truth?_” was the question directed more than
four hundred years afterwards by the great apostle of the Gentiles to
some of his perverted churches. So it was also in the days of
Socrates, and so it must ever be. Men are by nature not lovers of
truth, in the first place, but lovers of themselves, of their own
wishes, of their own fancies, of their own belongings. To become
lovers of the pure truth they must undergo a process of moral and
intellectual regeneration--the new birth of oriental philosophy and of
evangelical doctrine.

(2.) Because the religious antipathies of an orthodox public (and the
Athenians prided themselves specially on their religiousness) towards
a person accused of heterodoxy, scepticism, and atheism are so strong
as readily to overbear any evidence that may be adduced to prove the
personal piety, and even the literal orthodoxy, of the accused party.

(3.) Because in a democracy, where the judges, or, as we would say,
the jury, are a mixed multitude of ignorant and prejudiced people,
such motives are apt to be particularly strong.

(4.) Because Socrates, as a man of high principle, {110} and of a
perhaps over-strained sense of honour, would not condescend to use any
of those intrigues, tricks, and supple artifices which are often
applied successfully to overcome the prejudices of an adverse jury.
Nay, his attitude seemed more that of a man willing to find in death a
noble opportunity for putting a seal upon the great work of his life.
He pleaded his own case, which no prudent man does who is anxious
merely to gain his case; and his speech is rather a proud assertion of
himself against his judges than a politic deprecation of their
displeasure.

(5.) Because, no doubt, a certain excitement of the public mind
arising out of the troubles of the recent revolutionary government
established by the Spartans, and the restoration of the democracy by
Thrasybulus, was favourable to the bringing of a charge against a
person belonging to a class generally suspected by the people, and one
who had unquestionably at times spoken his mind freely enough on the
defects, absurdities, and blunders of the local democracy. This
political element may certainly have helped; but the charge against
the philosopher was not mainly--formally indeed not at all--political,
as the pleadings both in Xenophon and Plato sufficiently show.

Taking all these things together, remembering how many follies and
ferocities have everywhere been perpetrated in the name of religion,
and impressed with the full force of what the poet says of the reward
wont to be paid by the world to persistent speakers of truth--

 “Die wenigen die von der Wahrheit was erkannt
 Und thöricht genug ihr volles Herz nicht wahrten
 Dem Pöbel ihr Gefühl, ihr Schauen offenbarten
 Hat man von je gekreuzigt und verbrannt,”--

{111}
some persons may perhaps feel inclined to think with Mr. Grote that
“the wonder rather is that the wise man was not prosecuted sooner.
It was only the extraordinary toleration of the Greek people that
prevented this.” There is a great amount of truth in this remark;
but the exercise of polytheistic toleration in the case of Socrates
was rendered more easy by the undoubted innocency of the accused, and
the host of friends whom his wisdom and goodness had created for him
as his champions. Had Socrates really been as heterodox in Athenian
theology as Michael Servetus was in the theology of the Christian
world at the period when, in harmony with universal European law, he
was burnt by the Genevese Calvinists, we might then have drawn a
contrast between monotheistic intolerance and polytheistic toleration
in two perfectly similar cases; but as matters really stand, while the
execution of Servetus was only a great legal and theological mistake,
the death of Socrates must be stamped by the impartial historian as a
great social crime. It was equally against local law and human right,
a rude invasion of blind prejudice, overbearing insolence, and paltry
spite against the holiest sanctities of human life.

The details of the death of Socrates, sketched with such graceful
power and kindly simplicity by Plato in the concluding chapters of the
_Phædo_, are well known; but the present paper would seem imperfect
without some glimpse of that last and most beautiful scene of the
philosopher’s career. We shall therefore conclude with that extract;
and to make the picture of his last days as complete as possible,
introduce it by an extract from Plato’s _Apology_, in which the
dignified self-reliance and serene courage of the sage {112} is
described with all that rich fulness and easy grace of which the
writer was so consummate a master:--

“I should have done what was decidedly wrong, O Athenians, if, when
the archons whom you elected ordered me, at Potidæa, at Amphipolis,
and at Delium, to accept the post given me in the war, and stand where
I was ordered to stand at the risk of death,--if then, I say, I had
not obeyed the command, and exposed my life willingly for the good of
my country; but when the order comes from a god--as I had the best
reason to believe that a god did order me to spend my life in
philosophizing, and in proving myself and others, whether we were
living according to right reason,--if in such circumstances I should
now, from fear of death, or from any other motive, leave my post, and
become a deserter, this were indeed a sin; and for such an offence any
one might justly bring me before this court on a charge of impiety,
saying that I had disobeyed the voice of the god by flinching from
death, and conceiting myself to be wise when I was not wise. For to be
afraid of death, O Athenians, is in fact nothing else than to seem to
be wise when a man is not wise: for it is to seem to have a knowledge
of things which a man does not know. For no man really knows whether
death may not be to mortal men of all blessings perhaps the greatest;
and yet they do fear it, as if they knew that it is the greatest of
evils. And how, I ask, can this be other than the most shameful folly
to imagine that a man knows what he does not know? or perhaps do I
differ from most other men in this, and if I am wiser at all than any
one, am I wiser in this, that, while not possessing any exact
knowledge of the state of matters in Hades, I do not {113} imagine
that I possess such knowledge; but as to right and wrong, I know for
certain, that to disobey a better than myself whether man or god, is
both bad and base. On no account therefore will I ever fear and seek
to avoid what may or may not be an evil, rather than that which I most
certainly know to be bad; in so much that if, on the present occasion,
you should be willing to acquit me, and refuse to listen to Anytus,
who maintained that I either should never have been brought before you
at all, or you could not do otherwise than condemn me to death,
because your sons, putting in practice the lessons of Socrates, must
needs go on without redemption to their ruin--if, notwithstanding this
declaration of my prosecutor, you should still be unconvinced, and
say--O Socrates, for the present we discharge you, but on this
condition, that for the future you shall not go on philosophizing and
proving, as you have hitherto done; and, if you are caught doing so,
then you shall die--if on these conditions you were now willing to
acquit me, I should say to you, O Athenians, that, while I cherish all
loyal respect and love for you, I choose to obey the gods rather than
men, and so long as I live and breathe I will never cease
philosophizing: and exhorting any of you with whom I may happen to
converse, and addressing him as I have been wont, thus,--O my
excellent fellow-citizen, the citizen of a State the most famous for
wisdom and for resources, is it seemly in you to feel no shame if,
while you are spending your strength in the accumulation of money, and
in the acquisition of civic reputation, you bestow not the slightest
pains to have your soul as well furnished with intelligence as your
life is with prosperity? And if any man to {114} this question should
reply, that, so far as he is concerned, he really does bestow as much
care on wisdom as on wealth, then I will not forthwith let him go, but
will proceed, as I was wont, to interrogate, and to prove, and to
argue; and if, as the result of the discussion, he shall appear to me
not to possess virtue, but merely to say that he possesses it, I will
then go on to reprove him in that by his deeds he prefers what is base
to what is noble, and foolishly sets the highest value upon that which
has the least worth. And in this wise I will speak to every man whom I
shall converse with, be he citizen, or be he stranger, and the rather
if he be a fellow-citizen to whom I am bound by nearer and more
indissoluble ties. For this is precisely what I am commanded to do by
the god; and if the god did indeed give forth this command, then must
I distinctly declare that no greater blessing could be to this city
than that, so long as I do live, I should live to execute the divine
command. For what I do day after day treading your streets is simply
this, that, speaking to both young and old, I exhort them not to seek
in the first place money or anything material, but to stretch every
nerve that their soul may be as excellent as possible; for that virtue
and all excellence grow not from gold, but rather that gold and all
things truly good, both in private and public life, grow to men from
the possession of virtue as the root of all good. If by preaching this
doctrine I corrupt the youth, let such teaching be declared corrupt:
but if any one asserts that I teach other doctrine than this, he is
talking unreason. Therefore, O Athenians, do as seemeth you good;
listen to Anytus, or listen to him not; acquit me or acquit me not, I
can do no otherwise than {115} I have done, though I should die a
hundred times.

(_At these words murmurs of dissent and disapprobation are heard from
the jury_.)

“Be not surprised, O Athenians, nor express displeasure at what I
have said; listen rather and hear, for you will be the better and not
the worse for anything that I have said, and I have some other things
to say also of a nature to bring out similar expressions of your
dissent; but hear me, I beseech you, with patience. This I must
plainly tell you, that if you put me to death, being such an one as I
have described, and doing such things as I do, you will not hurt me so
much as you will hurt yourselves; or, more properly speaking, no man
can hurt me, neither Anytus nor Meletus nor any one else; for it is
not in the nature of things that a better man should receive essential
harm from a worse. No doubt a worse man may kill me, or banish me, or
brand me with statutable infamy--evils these the greatest possible in
the estimation of some, but not certainly in my conviction, who hold
the greatest infamy to be even that which this man has brought upon
himself, in that wrongfully he endeavours to take away the life of his
fellow. I am not therefore, in making this present defence, pleading
my own cause so much as speaking in your behalf, O Athenians, lest ye
should be found sinning against the god in condemning a just man
unjustly. For if you put me aside you will not easily find another
(though it may excite a smile when I say so) who may be able or
willing to perform the same service for the public good; for even as a
large and mettlesome, though from the size of its body somewhat slow,
horse requires {116} a goad to make it run, even so the god seems to
have attached me to you, that by spurring and goading, and exhorting
and reproving you day after day with a pious persistency, I should
rouse you to the performance of what your dignity requires. Such an
honest counsellor, and one who shall as faithfully apply when
necessary the profitable pain that belongs to the successful treatment
of your malady, you may not so readily find again; for which reason I
say, fellow-citizens, hear me and spare my life; but if, as is natural
enough, you take offence, and, like other sleepers, begin to kick and
to butt at the man who rouses you from your lethargy, nothing is
easier than killing me; and then when I am gone you will be allowed to
sleep on in uninterrupted sloth, unless indeed the god shall be
pleased to send some other messenger of grace to pluck you from
destruction. And that I truly am such a person as I here profess to
be, a real messenger of the gods to you, you may gather from hence
that no mere human motive could have induced me now for so many years
to have neglected my own affairs, and devoted myself to your good,
looking upon every man as my father or my brother, and exhorting him
by every possible suasion to seek for virtue as the only good. And
this also I may say, that if in the exercise of this my vocation I had
exacted any payment or received any pecuniary reward my accusers might
have had some ground for their charge; but as the case stands you
perceive plainly that, while my enemies have brought forward every
possible charge against me with the most shameless effrontery, to
substantiate which they might imagine themselves in possession of some
{117} shadow of proof, none of them has produced a single witness to
the effect that I ever either received or sought a wage of any kind
for the instructions which I imparted. But there is one witness which
I can produce to rebut such a charge if it were made, a witness which
will not fail to silence even the bitterest of my accusers,--even that
poverty in which I have lived and in which I shall die.

“So much for the character of my teaching. But perhaps it may seem
strange to some one, that, while I go about the city giving counsel to
every man in this busy fashion, with all my fondness for business I
have not found my way into public life, nor come forward on this stage
to advise you on public affairs. Now the cause of this is none other
than that which you have frequently heard me mention, namely, THAT
SOMETHING DIVINE AND SUPERHUMAN to which Meletus in his address
scoffingly alluded; for this is the sober truth, O ye judges, that
from my boyhood I have on all important occasions been wont to hear a
voice which, whenever it speaks in reference to what I am about to do,
always warns me to refrain, but never urges me to perform.[117.1] This
voice it is, {118} and nothing else, which forbade me to meddle with
public affairs, and forbade me very wisely, as I can now clearly
perceive, and with a most excellent result; for of this, O Athenians,
be assured, if I had essayed at an early period of my life to manage
your public business, I should without doubt have perished long ago,
and done no good either to you or to {119} myself. And be not wroth
with me if in this I tell you the truth; the man does not exist who
shall be able to save his life anywhere, if he shall set himself
honestly and persistently to oppose you or any other multitude of
people when you are violently bent on doing things unjust and
unlawful; whosoever therefore would live on this earth as the champion
of right and justice, if only for a little while, amongst men, must
make up his mind to do good as a private person, and forego all
ambition to serve the public in a political capacity.”

This is not the tone certainly which any accused person anxious to
save his life in pleading before a democratic jury would have adopted,
whether at Athens or New York. By the majority of his judges, who came
predisposed to condemn him, such language could only be interpreted as
adding insult to injury. If he thinks himself too good to live amongst
us, why, then, let him die! And in accordance with this sentiment a
verdict was brought in--only by a small majority however--that he was
guilty of the charge. This verdict, according to Athenian law, did not
necessarily determine the punishment; the accuser asked for death; but
from the smallness of the majority there was every reason to believe
that a less punishment would have satisfied the jury, if only the
accused had shown any willingness to accept it. But in the short
address which he made after the verdict of guilty had been given in,
though he professed himself willing to pay a fine of thirty minæ,
which his friends had guaranteed, for himself was too poor, yet he
made this declaration with such an air of calm superiority, and
accompanied it with such a proud claim of reward {120} for great
public services as his proper civic due, instead of punishment for any
public offence, that his judges, being, as they were, made of the
common human stuff, under the feelings of the moment could scarcely do
otherwise than take it as an insult, and so they passed sentence of
death upon the philosopher for contumacy towards themselves, not less
than for blasphemy against the gods.

The fate of Socrates was now fixed; nor did he show any desire to have
it altered. To such a strict observer of the laws, and a person to
whom his moral position before men was of infinitely more consequence
than his life, any attempt to escape from prison could have been
suggested only to provoke refusal; so he remained in ward thirty days,
till the sacred ship should return from the Delian festival, during
the absence of which Attic usage forbade the infliction of capital
punishment on any citizen. Through all this period he is represented
as preserving the same tone of cheerful seriousness and playful
dignity which characterized him in his defence before the judges. He
discoursed with his friends on the immortality of the soul; and the
record of this conversation, no doubt, in the argumentative part
largely Platonized, but in the fundamental scheme substantially true,
has been preserved to the world in the well-known dialogue of the
_Phædo_; the closing chapters of which, exhibiting with a graceful
and graphic simplicity, never surpassed, the last moments of the
revered teacher’s mortal career, supply all that is further required
to complete the present sketch:--“Well, friends, we have been
discoursing for this last hour on the immortality of the soul, and
there are many points about that matter {121} on which he were a bold
man who should readily dogmatize; but one thing I seem to know full
certainly, that whosoever during his earthly life has flung sensual
pleasures behind him, and been studious to adorn his soul, not with
conventional and adventitious trappings, but with its own proper
decoration, temperance and justice, and courage and freedom and
truth,--the person so prepared waits cheerfully to perform the journey
to the unseen world at whatever period Fate may choose to call him.
You, Simmias, and Cebes, and the rest of you, my dear friends, will go
that road some day, when your hour comes: as for me, to use the phrase
of the tragic poets, ‘Destiny even now calls me,’ and it is about
the hour that I should be going to the bath; for I think it better to
take a bath first before I drink the drug, so that the women may not
have the trouble to wash my body when I am gone.

“Here Crito interposed and said, Be it so! but have you no last
commands to give to these your friends or to me, in relation to your
children, or any matter by attending to which we might do you a
pleasure? Nothing but what I am always saying, O Crito: if you will
seriously attend to your own lives and characters, you will do what is
most pleasurable to me and mine, and to yourselves, even though you
should not be able to agree with me in all that we have been
discoursing; but if you live at random, and neglect yourselves, and do
not strive to follow in the traces of a virtuous life, such as we have
marked out now, and in many former conversations, you will do no good
either to me or to yourselves. Well then, said Crito, we will apply
ourselves with all our hearts to this matter; but in {122} what way do
you wish that we should bury you? Any way you like, said he, if you
can only get hold of me! then with a quiet smile, and looking round
upon us, he said: I cannot persuade this good Crito that I who am now
talking to him, and marshalling the heads of my argument, am the
veritable Socrates; but he persists in thinking Socrates is that body
which he will see by and by stretched out on the floor, and he asks
how he is to bury me? but as to what I have been asserting with many
words, that after I have drunk the hemlock I shall be with you no
longer, but shall depart to some blessedness of the blest, this I seem
to have spoken all in vain, so far as he is concerned. Only, for a
little comfort to you, and to myself, I beseech you, dear friends,
give Crito security for me, and pledge yourself to the opposite effect
of the pledge he gave in my behalf before the jury. For he stood
guarantee that I should remain and wait the result of the trial; but
from you I request that you give him security that, after I die, I
shall not remain, but forthwith depart, that, in this way, my
excellent friend may suffer less grief, and when he sees my body
either burnt or inhumated, may not grieve for me, as if I were
suffering maltreatment, nor say in reference to my body, that they are
either laying out Socrates on a bier, or carrying him forth to the
place of the dead, or laying him in the ground. For be assured of
this, most excellent Crito, that to use words in an improper sense is
not only a bad thing in itself, but it generates a bad habit in the
soul. Be of good cheer therefore, and talk about burying my body, not
burying me; and as to the manner, manage this business as it shall
seem best to you, or as may be most in accordance with law and custom.

{123}

“With these words he rose and went into a side chamber for the bath,
with Crito following; but the rest of us he requested to remain.
Accordingly we remained, conversing with one another on the subject of
the recent discourse, and considering sorrowfully our unhappy
condition, destined as we were to spend the rest of our days as
orphans deprived of a beloved father. Then after he had bathed, and
his children were brought to him--for he had two sons, one
full-grown,--and the women also came in--he spoke to them for some
time in the presence of Crito, and gave his last commands, and having
sent them home, came back to us. And now it was near sunset, for he
had been a considerable time within; and he came and sat down, and
after that did not speak much; and then the officer of the Eleven came
in and said to him, O Socrates, I shall not have to blame you as I am
in the way of blaming others, because they reproach me for giving them
the draught--me, who have nothing to do with the offence, but who only
execute what I am commanded to do by the Archons. But you, as during
the whole time that you have been here, you showed a nobility and
gentleness of disposition which I never knew in another, so now I am
convinced that you will accuse not me but those who are the real
authors of your death. Now therefore, for you know my message,
farewell! and endeavour to bear what must be borne with a light heart.
And with this he wept, and turned and went out. And Socrates, looking
after him, said, Fare thou, too, well; and we will do even as you say.
Then turning to us. What a kind-hearted fellow this is! During the
whole period of my abode here he would often come {124} up to me, like
the best of men, and now he weeps for me with such generous tears. But
come, let us do his bidding, and let some one bring in the drug, if it
is rubbed down; if not, let the man grate it. But I think, said Crito,
that the sun is yet on the mountains, and is not set; and I have known
others in your condition who delayed the drinking of the draught till
the latest moment, and, even after the officer had made his
intimation, continued eating and drinking and talking with their
friends, whom they desired to have beside them. Be not therefore in a
hurry; there is abundance of time. Likely enough, said Socrates; and
they did wisely what they did, thinking that they would gain something
thereby; but it were not seemly in me to follow their example, for I
should gain nothing by delaying the draught for a few moments except
to laugh at myself for having clung so eagerly to the remnant of a
life that had already run its course. But come, do as I bid you, and
not otherwise.

“On this Crito gave a nod to the boy who was standing near; and the
boy went out, and after spending some time in grating down the herb,
returned, bringing with him the man whose duty it was to administer
the drug mingled in a bowl. Well, said Socrates, my good fellow, do
you understand this affair, so as to give directions how we are to
proceed? You have nothing to do, said the man, but to drink the
draught, and to walk about till you feel a heaviness about your limbs,
and then lie down; after that the drink will work for itself. And with
this he gave the bowl to Socrates; and he, taking it very graciously,
and without trembling or changing colour, but in his usual way looking
the man broadly {125} in the face, said to him, What do you say as to
this draught, may one make a libation of a part of it, or not? We
grate down just what we think is a proper measure to drink, and
nothing more. I understand, said he; but at all events it is lawful to
pray to the gods, that our migration hence may take place with good
omens, even as I pray now; and so be it. And with these words,
bringing the bowl to his lips, he quaffed the draught lightly and
pleasantly to the dregs. Whereupon we, who had hitherto been able to
repress our sorrow, now that we saw him drinking the poison, and not a
drop remaining in the bowl, in spite of every effort burst into tears;
and I, covering my head with my mantle, began to bewail my fate--my
fate, not his, considering of what a man and what a friend I was now
deprived. But Crito, even before me, not being able to restrain his
tears, rose up; and as for Apollodorus, who had been weeping all
along, he now broke out into such a piteous wail as to rend the hearts
of all present and crush them with sorrow, except only Socrates
himself, who quietly remarked--What is this you are about, my good
sirs? Did I not send the women away expressly for this purpose, that
there might be no extravagant lamentings at my exit, for I have always
heard that in a sacrifice it is a good omen when the victim receives
the blow peacefully. Be quiet, therefore, and possess your souls in
patience. Whereat we, being ashamed, made an effort to restrain our
tears. Then he walked up and down, till, feeling his legs become
heavy, he came, according to the direction, and laid himself down on
his back; whereupon the man who gave the bowl came up to him and
touched him, and at short intervals examined his feet, and {126} his
legs, and then, pressing his foot closely, inquired if he felt
anything, to which he replied, No; then the man gradually brought his
hand further and further up, first to his shins and then along the
leg, asking always if he had any sensation; and when he gave no sign
we saw that his limbs were cold and stiff. Then he himself likewise
touched his body with his hand and said, _When the numbness comes up
to my heart then I shall depart_. And after that, when the numbness
had reached the lower part of the belly, he suddenly uncovered
himself--for when he lay down he had thrown his mantle over his
face--and said,--which were the last words he uttered--_O Crito, we
owe a cock to Æsculapius; pay the vow and do not forget_; and with
that drew the mantle again over his face. It shall be done, said
Crito; have you nothing else to say? But now there was no reply; and,
after a short interval, a convulsive motion shook the body, and the
man going up uncovered his face, and we saw that his eyes were fixed.
Then Crito going up closed his mouth and his eyes. And this, O
Echecrates, was the end of our beloved companion and friend, a man of
whom we may truly say, OF ALL MEN WHOM WE HAVE KNOWN, HE WAS THE
BEST, THE WISEST, AND THE MOST JUST.”



ARISTOTLE.

{127}

THERE is a natural sequence in the processes of social culture which
is well illustrated by the history of Moral Philosophy among the
Greeks. The man of action comes before the man of literature, the man
of literature before the man of science. In Greek ethics Socrates was
the man of action, Plato the man of literature, and Aristotle the man
of science. Not, of course, that Plato was merely the literary man, in
the trivial modern sense of that word; he was eminently the
philosopher--not merely φιλόλογος but φιλόσοφος--but he put forth his
philosophy in a popular form; he addressed himself to the imagination
as well as the reason; he appealed, as we would say, to the general
public; and speaking to men in a human way, on the most interesting of
human topics, through the medium of language artistically handled, he
falls manifestly under the broad category of the literary as opposed
to the scientific man, who works on a special subject, and with a
special faculty. But Aristotle was pre-eminently, and with very marked
features, the man of knowledge; he came with the dissecting knife in
hand and addressed himself to those who were willing to make special
dissections with him for the mere purpose of knowing, and drew a broad
line of {128} demarcation between the speculative and the practical
world. Nevertheless the Stagirite was something more than a knowing
machine; he was a man, and by virtue of his Hellenic birth also a
citizen. He could not therefore avoid occupying to a certain extent
the province of the practical man; and so it has come to pass that in
three great works, the _Ethics_, the _Politics_, and the _Rhetoric_,
he has transported himself from the teacher’s chair, and entered
into competition with Socrates and Plato as a preacher of social
morals and a guide to civic conduct. This was well both for him and
for us: well for him, because mere knowing can never exhaust the
riches of a nature so essentially practical as that of man: well for
us, because otherwise we could scarcely have imagined the phenomenon
of an intellect at once so complete in all the categories of
scientific cognition, and so strongly marked with all the sagacity
that belongs to the so-called practical man, the man of society, the
man of business, the accomplished citizen. And it is to this walking
out into the realm of common life, instead of confining himself like
so many erudite Germans within the limits of a library or a
laboratory, that Aristotle owes no small part of the influence which
he has so long exercised, not only in the schools but among
intelligent men of all classes. In ancient times, when Moral
Philosophy was justly regarded as the principal part of that wisdom
which it concerns all men to possess, the Philosopher of the Lyceum
never would have been able to assert his place as a public teacher
alongside of Socrates and Plato had he bestowed only a secondary
consideration on the grand arts of living and governing. As it was,
the poet-philosopher of the Academy could not but remain {129} the
more popular and the more effective moral teacher of the two; but if
Plato was more attractive and more interesting, and by these qualities
commanded a wider audience, it was a great consolation to the lesser
circle of the Stagirite’s disciples that, though in his discourses
on moral matters he was more angular and more severe, he was at the
same time more shrewd, more sagacious, and more practical. The
reputation which Aristotle thus maintained among ancient Greeks and
Romans, both as a speculator and as a wise guide in the conduct of
life, was increased rather than diminished when brought into contact
with the new moral force of Christianity. No doubt Plato at first was
the natural vestibule through which the cultivated Greeks of
Alexandria entered the temple of Christian faith; but after that
faith, partly in league with Plato, and partly in spite of Plato, had
achieved its natural triumph, Aristotle, the clear, cold, and keen, but
by no means devout master of all knowledge, by a sort of reaction, as
it should seem, in the middle ages began to assert an exclusive
dominance in the schools, both of Christian Europe and, through the
Arabians, in the East. To all who were anxious for clear and exact
knowledge in matters visible and tangible, the Stagirite was the only
guide. As the high priest of science he acted in those days of
sacerdotal direction as the natural complement of faith, not as its
antagonist; and for this reason he is praised by Dante among the
solemn forms of the mighty dead that pace through the dim halls of the
unseen world, as

 “Il gran maestro di color chi sanno.”

The dethronement which he afterwards suffered at {130} the hands of
those twin innovators Luther and Lord Bacon was again a mere matter of
reaction, and could in its nature be only temporary. Honest Martin
raged in his own way very furiously against the great dictator of the
schools, almost as if he had been the Pope:--“Aristotle, that
histrionic mountebank, who from behind a Greek mask has so long
bewitched the Church of Christ, that most cunning juggler of souls,
whom, if he had not been accredited as of human blood and bone, we
should have been justified in maintaining to be the veritable
devil.”[130.1] But this we plainly see to be the language of a man
not with the balance of truth in his hand, but with the sword of
sacred wrath in his tongue; and, indeed, the sword was at that time
very needful, and wielded with a wise hostility, not against the true.
Aristotle whom we now read and admire, but against the so-called
Aristotelian fence of the schools, used oftener for subtle and shadowy
exercitation and in defence of the grossest abuses than in the honest
search after truth. Of the real Aristotle Luther knew as little in
those days as not a few Christians at the present hour know of true
Christianity, coming as it does to them through the strangely
distorting media of scholastic subtleties, sacerdotal usurpations, and
pure human stupidities of all kinds. As for Lord Bacon, he was no
doubt equally right in stoutly protesting against the then
Aristotelian logic as a hindrance rather than a help to the true
knowledge of nature; while, at the same time, he was no less certainly
in the wrong if he imagined, or led men to imagine, either that
induction was the only method which leads to the discovery of
important truth, or that {131} Aristotle’s writings lent any
countenance to those baseless and unfruitful methods of speculation
which were presented under the authority of his name. It was
necessary, however, that the human mind should be thoroughly
emancipated from the dictatorial oppression of the false Aristotle
before the true Aristotle could be reinstated on his throne; and this
required time. Accordingly we find that some of the most original
thinkers and ingenious scholars of the last century seem to have
imagined that Aristotle and the Pope were two great usurpers, the one
in the intellectual, the other in the religious world, whom the great
Protestant movement of the sixteenth century, in the interest both of
learning and religion, had rightfully dethroned. “Mr. Harris, for
example,” says his biographer, “had imbibed a prejudice, very
common at that time even among scholars, that Aristotle was an obscure
and unprofitable author, whose philosophy had deservedly been
superseded by that of Mr. Locke.”[131.1] And in perfect harmony with
this, Mr. Burton, in his life of Hume, remarks that “the name of
Aristotle is not once mentioned in Hume’s treatise of human
nature.”[131.2] Strange revolution of thought in a country where, in
the days of John Knox, it had been customary for famous academical
teachers to say--“_Stultum est dicere Aristotelem errasse!_” And,
indeed, not only Hume, but Bentham, James Mill, and all the thinkers
of that century, manifested a strange lust of spinning knowledge out
of their own bowels, so to speak, with a careless or insolent neglect
of the great truths handed down for the use of all ages by the master
{132} thinkers of ancient times. But not even in Scotland, never
famous for Greek, could such ignorance last for ever. The French
Revolution of 1789 shook all men violently out of their old
complacencies, and blew their dainty conceits of all kinds to the
winds; things were now to be built up from the foundations, not in the
political world only, but in the intellectual and religious world no
less; torpid Churches were suddenly fevered with hot activity; in
literature the forgotten language of a natural and passionate poetry
was to be restored; and in philosophy the ancient foundations of
stable knowledge were to be laid bare. Under such a violent volcanic
action it could not be but that both Plato and Aristotle should be
made to stand out before lesser names in their true dimensions.
Aristotle especially revealed himself to many thoughtful Germans, and
a few thoughtful Englishmen, as the precursor of Bacon in the use of
the great organon of induction; and the hard and cautious genius of
the Scotch, under the guidance of a polyhistoric Hamilton, found in
the Stagirite a more dignified corner-stone than in Reid for the
erection of a philosophical edifice which rather sought safety in
narrowing than glory in extending the bounds of human speculation. In
Oxford, the stiff conservatism of the College tutors, men trained to
the exact knowledge of a few traditional books, more certainly than
any profound philosophical insight, preserved the Ethics, along with
the Logic, of Aristotle as one of the general instruments of juvenile
drill; while, outside the academic precincts, liberal statesmen like
Cornewall Lewis and democratic historians like Grote continued to
quote the Stagirite as the wisest at once and the most cautious of all
{133} ancient political speculators. Thus the natural balance of
judgment was restored; and Aristotle, redeemed at once from the
ignorant idolatry of pseudo disciples and the local conceit of men who
spurned to learn from any but themselves, took his place for ever as
an intellectual dictator of the first rank, with whom if a man did not
happen to agree, it was always more likely that the dissentient had
wandered into error than that the authority from whom he dissented had
failed to fasten his glance upon the truth.

Before attempting to set forth in its great salient points the ethical
system of Aristotle, it will be at once interesting and useful to
sketch shortly the leading events of his life, omitting altogether, as
a matter of course, those hundred and one points of uncertain report
and slippery slander which are wont to attach themselves to the fame
of any great man as to a natural nucleus. And when a man like
Aristotle is not only a great man according to the common measure of
human greatness, but an altogether extraordinary man, it is as natural
that he should be spoken against from all sides as that dogs should
bark at a stranger. The epiphany of an intellectual giant in any
assembly of men of average talent makes those appear dwarfs who had
previously, not without reason, accounted themselves of reputable
stature; and as no man likes to be dwarfed, the necessary result of
such an apparition is to set men’s wits agog to find out cunning
devices, whereby the overwhelming stature of the huge intruder may
seem to be curtailed. So Aristotle, we are told, had “a whole host
of enemies;” and we shall therefore, as just judges, be justified in
throwing out of court, as vitiated in its source, the greater part of
the merely anecdotal {134} accretions that cling to the name of the
mighty Stagirite.

The adjuncts of high social position and freedom from pecuniary
pressure, always advantageous to wise men, hurtful only to fools,
Aristotle enjoyed in a remarkable degree. Born 384 B.C. in a Greek
town, but under Macedonian influence, his father, who belonged to an
old Asclepiad family, as court physician to King Amyntas, had ample
opportunities of launching him into the world with all the training,
equipment, and supports that are the natural harbingers of a
prosperous career. He was not therefore a Greek in the strict sense of
the word; and, though he borrowed his language and culture from
Attica, and sympathized mainly with popular institutions, as his great
work on Politics shows, he had good reason to congratulate himself
that he did not lose his original citizenship when the eloquence of
Demosthenes thundered in vain against the gold and the iron of the
Macedonian. In the period of Aristotle’s youth there was nothing in
Greece proper to make any thoughtful person lament that he had been
born a subject of a sturdy and semi-barbarous but rising monarchy,
rather than a citizen of an exhausted and decaying democracy; for
though the victories of Chabrias had restored in some sort the
supremacy of the Athenians at sea, the brilliant career of Epaminondas
had elevated Thebes for a moment only to make general Greece more
divided and less able to resist the growing power of Macedonia.
Whether his father had destined him to follow his own profession is
uncertain; there are however in the _Ethics_, and elsewhere in his
works, frequent allusions to the medical art, such as might have been
expected from {135} the associations of his parentage; and the
prominent place given to physical science in his writings seems to
indicate a tendency partly favoured by the circumstances of his birth,
partly evoked by the natural progress of the Greek mind in the then
stage of its development. This only we know certainly, that at the age
of seventeen, about the time when young men in Scotland generally
leave school for the university, the future father of encyclopædic
science was sent to Athens, where he remained for twenty years as a
pupil of Plato in the Academy. But though a pupil, he was anything but
a disciple. Naturally of an inductive rather than a speculative habit
of mind, and disposed to dissect and to tabulate rather than to
collect and to construct, he displayed from year to year a more marked
divergence from the great ideal thinker who at that time was
impressing his type on the rising intellect of Greece. The reported
gossip of antiquity has much to say about some bitter rivalry that
arose, and unseemly quarrel that broke out, between the dictatorial
master and the independent pupil; but we need believe nothing of this,
except in so far as it may be an indication of a radical difference of
intellectual character in the two men, which could not but make itself
felt in various ways, more or less inconsistent with the relation of a
merely receptive and responsive discipleship. Nothing is more common
in the intercourse of cultivated men, than that one of the parties
finds himself in a condition to respect profoundly what he cannot at
all agree with, and what he feels bound, ever and anon, decidedly to
controvert. So it fared no doubt with young Aristotle in relation to
old Plato. Confluence between two souls so differently constituted
there {136} could be none. They cannot be compared as one rose may be
compared with another, or even as one flower may be contrasted with
another flower, but only as things of a totally different nature, may
be named in the same sentence to make their incommensurability more
patent. The intellect of Aristotle was a granite palace, that of Plato
a garden of paradise; Aristotle’s wit was like a sharp knife and a
weighty hammer, Plato’s like a rolling river and a shining ocean;
the one bristled with all carious knowledge, the other blossomed with
all lofty speculation; Aristotle analysed all things great and small;
Plato harmonized all things beautiful and grand. Along with this
inborn diversity of intellectual character, we have reason to suppose
that there were certain habits of life and social peculiarities about
the Stagirite, which were not without offence to the more strict and
devoted Platonists. For that there was a certain tinge of Puritanism,
and even a sort of lofty pedantry, occasionally manifested in the
great architect of ideas, can, I think, scarcely be doubted by any one
who has read his great work--the _Republic_--with an unbribed
judgment. Now if Plato was somewhat of a philosophical Puritan, in
Aristotle there was presented that combination of a philosopher and a
man of the world, of the man of principle with the man of practice,
which, because it is difficult to produce, is always rare, and because
it is rare is always admired. A physician, and above all a court
physician, must be a man who enjoys and who understands society: such
was Aristotle’s father; and the son, while betaking himself to the
quiet bowers of the Athenian Academy for the cultivation of thought,
could not forget that there was a large busy world without {137} which
imperiously asserted itself, and from which not even a philosopher
could be allowed to withdraw with impunity. It was a characteristic
tenet of the Peripatetic school that the external trappings and
decorations of life are not to be looked down on with a lofty
contempt, but rather cared for as serviceable, and in some cases
necessary, aids to a perfect life; and so those Quaker-like
affectations of plain garb, and those over-virtuous abstinences from
“cakes and ale” and other delights of the merely sensuous part of
our nature, which some Platonic and Stoic philosophers affected, could
not but meet from Aristotle with a practical protest, of which some
significant hint peeps out here and there among the scraps of ancient
anecdote-mongers and memoir-writers. Plato, we are told, “was not
pleased with Aristotle’s manner of life, nor with his dress. For
indeed he was somewhat nice and curious in his apparel, and there was
a particular tidiness about his shoes; and his hair also he had cut
after a jaunty fashion, not approved of by men of Plato’s following;
and he made a display of many rings on his finger. Moreover, there was
a peculiar sarcastic play about his mouth, and, when he spoke, he
could prattle away with a notable fluency; all which things seemed not
to be quite in keeping with the character of a philosopher, and were
the occasion that Plato preferred Speusippus and Xenocrates, who
afterwards became his successors in the Academy.” This picture is,
no doubt, in the main true; and it can only excite our admiration when
we consider that the same man of whom this is told was also noted as
the most severe and persistent reader in Athens; his house, indeed,
was called by Plato “the house of the reader;” and the {138}
learned geographer Strabo notes him as the first Greek who collected
books on a large scale, and supplied to the Ptolemies of the
succeeding age the model of those systematic stores of books with
which they made Alexandria famous. Aristotle therefore may justly be
regarded as the great prototype of those modern Germans who, like the
mailed knights of the middle ages, stand up in our libraries, cased in
the invulnerable panoply of polyhistoric and encyclopædic erudition;
and he gave birth to that curious sort of intellectual laboriosity,
which when divorced from his genius and his sagacity, produced those
accumulations of written and printed record, under which the shelves
of so many libraries groan, by which also, we may justly say, not a
few strong intellects have been lost to the living world, smothered
beneath heaps of cumbrous babblement, in extent infinite, in value
infinitesimal.

After the death of Plato in the year 347, Aristotle retired for a few
years to the court of his fellow-student and friend Hermias, then
ruler of Atarnæ, on the coast of Asia Minor. This change of scene was
necessary for him, while on the one hand his scheme of establishing a
new school of philosophy was yet immature, and, on the other hand, the
political relations between Macedonia and Athens were not such as that
it would be pleasant for him to be identified with a city which might
soon be forced into hostility with his natural sovereign. It was
fruitful also, no doubt, in those shrewd observations on men and
manners which stamp so many sagacious pages in his moral and political
treatises. From this judicious retirement after a few years he was
called to a field of more {139} honourable and influential activity.
In the year 342 he received a letter from Philip of Macedon,
requesting him to undertake the office of tutor to his young son
Alexander. The duties of this position he performed with such results
to his royal pupil as in such circumstances were to be expected; and
with the great advantage to himself of adding the resources of an
absolute monarch and a great conqueror to his own private instruments
for the prosecution of scientific research. The unexpected death of
Philip by the hands of an assassin, called Alexander prematurely to
dash into that brilliant career of Asiatic victory which has made his
name no less famous than that of his tutor, who by this event relieved
at once from personal responsibility and political apprehension, found
himself in a position to establish that independent school of wisdom
at Athens, which now for more than two thousand years has propagated
itself in the world as the natural and necessary complement to the
Platonic style of thought. In the year 334 he pitched his intellectual
camp at the Lyceum, in the eastern suburbs of Athens, under Mount
Lycabettus, and here during the space of thirteen years he remained
exercising towards his scholars the diverse functions of fatherhood
and fraternity, which in the ancient philosophical associations, as in
the early Christian Churches, were so happily combined. After the
death of Alexander, in the year 322, he left Athens and retired to
Chalcis, in Eubœa, where he had a small property; a migration to
which political considerations must have been the main inducement, for
so distinguished a dependant of the Macedonian court could scarcely
look upon himself as safe in {140} the Attic capital the moment that
the death of the great conqueror opened up to the most distinguished
people whom his arms had subjugated the prospect of political
liberation. The philosopher, accordingly, when leaving the city of his
adoption, as it turned out for the last time, with an obvious allusion
to the fate of Socrates, is reported to have said that he did so in
order that the Athenians might not again have the opportunity of
signalizing themselves by the murder of a philosopher; for, indeed, in
unlimited democracy generally, and specially in the extreme democracy
of that time, he had no faith, observing sarcastically that while the
Athenians had discovered two useful things, wheat and freedom, they
understood how to use the one, but the other they had possessed for a
short time, only to abuse. And no doubt he acted wisely in retreating
from a scene where no weight of character or reputation for grave
wisdom could have shielded him from the combined assault of personal
malignity and political rancour so ready in every democratic soil to
rise with jealous spite against individual eminence and independence.
The philosopher was threatened, we are told, with prosecution for
atheism; a charge which, however unfounded to the eye of reason, might
have been brought against the Stagirite from the orthodox Athenian
point of view with much more justice than about eighty years before it
had been brought against the great father of moral science. An atheist
certainly, in the strict sense of the term, Aristotle was not, but a
pious believer in the polytheistic theology of his country he was even
less; piety indeed of any kind is not at all a pronounced feature in
the composition of his character. Like many a {141} modern man of
science, he had cultivated acuteness at the expense of wonder; and,
while indulging in the omnivorous lust of knowledge, had starved
veneration, and stunted the growth of some of the most delicate
emotions of the soul. For devotion is of the very finest fragrance of
the emotional life; and as there are some flowers without smell, so
there are some souls without piety. In point of religious feeling,
beyond all question, both Socrates and Plato were infinitely superior
to Aristotle.

Such are the few trustworthy notices that have been preserved to us of
the outward fortunes of this great hierarch of encyclopædic
knowledge. He died shortly after his retirement to Chalcis, at the
early age of sixty-three, followed immediately by his great
contemporary Demosthenes. On his deathbed he named Theophrastus as his
successor in the chair of the great school of philosophy which he had
founded.

We now proceed to place before the reader a short statement of the
most striking characteristics of the ethical philosophy of Aristotle
as they are set forth in that compact little book, the _Nicomachean
Ethics_. And the first observation proper to make here is the extreme
practicality that appears not more in the general colour and tone than
in the individual chapters and paragraphs of this remarkable volume.
In criticising the sermons delivered in our Christian pulpits we are
accustomed to distinguish between doctrinal and practical preaching,
and to believe that while, in Scotland at least, the former is the
more popular and the more easy, the latter is always the more
difficult and the more efficient style of moral address. Now what we
have to say of Aristotle, as he appears in the _Ethics_, is that he is
not a mere {142} writer on ethics, an acute speculator or a subtle
casuist, but he presents himself with all the seriousness of a
preacher, and an eminently practical preacher. No doubt in this
capacity he must be regarded both by natural genius and in the general
tone of his ethical writings as second to his great master Plato; but
his influence on the moral culture of the world has not for that
reason been less. A large class of men, especially in this practical
country, are apt to suspect Plato of nonsense; and these are unwilling
to take advice in the affairs of common life from a man who, in his
flights of ideal constructiveness, so far transcends the narrow range
of their own hard-faced realism. But Aristotle is a man whom no man
can suspect of nonsense. He takes what lies before him, and in the
most cool practical way conceivable proceeds to analyse it, and to
spell out its significance. He is not ambitious--at least not in the
department of morals--of piling a grand system, or of tabulating an
exhaustive scheme. He is a practical man, as much as you or I am, and
sees with marked distinctness always what lies in his way. There is no
fear that under his guidance you will lose yourself in a mist or be
carried off your feet in a balloon. He is therefore peculiarly fitted
for being put forward as a lay-preacher to a British public; and the
Oxford scholars have done good service to the English youth by giving
his famous work on Ethics such a prominent place among classical books
of the first rank. He is as sensible as Dr. Paley, and a great deal
more profound; while, on the other hand, it never occurs to him that
it is necessary to prepare the way for a plain practical discourse on
the conduct of life by abstract discussions {143} on the liberty of
the will and the responsibility of free agents. This omission
Principal Grant considers a weakness; I consider it a sign of good
sense, or, at all events, a remarkable piece of good luck. He assumes
morality in the moral world, just as he assumes light and air and
water in the physical; he describes a moral man with strong lines and
a firm hand, just as he would describe a healthy man as contrasted
with a diseased man. If you have a single eye and an honest purpose,
you will not fail to know what he means; if you have not, his book is
not for you. There never was a more practical preacher. This word
_practical_, therefore, I desire the reader to emphasize doubly when
he applies himself to the thorough comprehension of the _Nicomachean
Ethics_. There are, no doubt, in this treatise, as in almost every
Greek book, some half-dozen curious questions raised, which, like the
subtle casuistry of the Jesuit doctors, have little practical value;
for Aristotle was a Greek, and as such a habitual dealer in
ἀπορήματα, or knotty points, in the solution of which a hard
practical Scot or a broad burly Englishman would think a single
sentence wasted. These however belong to the soil, grow up like weeds
among the best wheat, and, like bad puns in Shakespeare, must be taken
with the lot. In the gross and scope of his handling, as we have said,
the Stagirite systematically waives all unpractical questions; and in
the very arrangement of his book an attentive reader will not fail to
discern that there are certain scientific deficiencies which can be
explained fully only from the consideration that the writer had
vividly realized the difference between what we could call an
academical lecture and a sermon, and was {144} determined to make it
felt that a lecture on morals, through which the undertones of
seriousness that belong to a sermon are not heard, is one of the most
absurd and unmeaning of all human performances. No doubt this defect
in respect of strictly scientific method may arise partly from the
fact that the treatise seems to have been composed at different times,
and packed up, so to speak, in bundles rather than reared up
architecturally into a jointed structure; it is also plain enough to
any one who can read with a discerning eye that the work was left
incomplete by the great author, and that the fifth, sixth, and seventh
books, as we now have then, are from a different hand, and of
manifestly inferior workmanship; but I consider it not less certain
that, had it not been for the dominance of the practical point of
view, not a few chapters in this most valuable treatise would have
been compacted more aptly into the firmness of a complete organism.
Once and again in the first two books of his treatise does he repeat
the solemn warning that our object in inquiring into the nature of
virtue is, not that we may know what virtue is, but that we may be
virtuous. Once and again does he enter a protest against the
supersubtle tendencies of his countrymen, always ready to stand and
debate, even where the solution of the problem was to be found only in
motion and in action. Subtleties of any kind, indeed, are not suitable
for a moral discourse; the entertainment of them shows that the
inquirer has not yet conceived what the purport of the inquiry is;
ethical philosophy refers as distinctly to a deed as a sword refers to
a cut; and all questions about morals are idle, and even pernicious,
that do not bear directly on some practical result. {145} We must
therefore, so Aristotle argues, in our method of discussion here, not
insist on having always those exact proofs and nice definitions which
in the sciences of measurement and number may fairly be demanded. We
should rather seek for an analogy to moral science in such arts as
medicine, and say that propriety of conduct, like the health of the
body, is liable to much indeterminateness and variation; that to seek
for scientific rules which might apply with exactitude to all cases is
absurd; that no wise man will attempt to cut logs with razors, and
that in such matters of complex practice we must content ourselves
with stating some such broad general principles as suit the great
majority of cases, and which every man must be left to apply for
himself in the experience of life. Of the deep tone of practical
seriousness which underlies the whole of the _Nicomachean Ethics_, I
know no more striking proof than an utterance of Maurice, in the
preface to his exposition of the Epistles of John, which I shall here
extract. “I owe unspeakable gratitude,” says that truly
evangelical moralist, “to the University of Oxford for having put
Aristotle’s _Ethics_ into my hands, and induced me to read it, and
to think of it. I doubt if I could have received a greater boon from
any university or any teacher. I will tell you what this book did for
me. First, it assured me that the principles of morals cannot belong
to one time or another; that they must belong to all times. Here was
an old heathen Greek making me aware of things that were passing
within me, detecting my laziness and my insincerity, showing how
little I was doing the things which I professed to do, forcing me to
confess that with all the {146} advantages which I enjoyed he was
better than I was. That was one great thing. Next, I could not but
learn from him--for he took immense pains to tell me--that it is not
by reading a book or learning a set of maxims by heart that one gets
to know anything of morality, that it belongs to life, and must be
learned in the daily practice of life. English and Christian writers
no doubt might have told me the same thing. But I am not sure that
their words would have gone as much home as Aristotle’s did. I might
have thought that it was their business, part of their profession, to
utter those stern maxims, and to hold up such lofty ideals of
conduct.” And what adds immense force to Aristotle’s preaching,
especially with young men, is the feeling that they have here to do
not only with a non-professional preacher but with a thorough
gentleman, and a shrewd man of the world, the friend of princes, and
of great statesmen and mighty captains. It is seldom indeed that young
men in the heat of their blood and the glow of their fancy will listen
with much attention to sermons of any kind, even from the best
preachers; but if they will not receive the word of warning from such
a prophet as Aristotle they will at least have no excuse for sneering
either at the doctor or the doctrine. In him they will find no
sarcastic Cynic, content with the negative pleasure of snarling from
his private kennel at the faults of men, instead of rising to help
their infirmities; no sickly devotee whose principal occupation
through the dreariness of the present life is to dream and maunder
about the glories of the future; no curious registrar of morbid frames
of mind or dainty nurse of unproductive sentiment. Such caricatures of
the spiritual man, {147} justly odious to the vigorous, generous, and
sanguineous temper of youth, may be found cropping out largely in the
histories both of philosophical and religious sectaries; but not a
hint of them appears in the thoroughly masculine, thoroughly manly,
and thoroughly healthy Ethics of Aristotle.

The corner-stone of Aristotle’s moral doctrine, as in that of
Socrates, lies in the single word λόγος, which, whether in its
internal side as Reason, or with its outer face as Discourse, was so
peculiarly the watchword of the Hellenic race. “The Greeks seek
after wisdom;” and wisdom, or σοφία, is in all cases the
result, and the only possible result, of the just exercise of
λόγος or reason. We shall not therefore expect to find in the
Stagirite any fundamental principle different from that on which the
moral doctrine of Socrates rests--nay, just as some of the most
characteristic maxims of the New Testament can be pointed out in, and
no doubt were actually borrowed from, the Old Testament, even so, and
in a much greater degree, was the ethical doctrine of Aristotle
borrowed in its great leading points from Socrates and Plato. This
borrowing, however, was not in the style of patchwork; it was an
affair of natural growth. What we find in Aristotle is not a new
ethical doctrine, but the emphasizing and systematizing of certain
important aspects of an old doctrine. Now the aspect which Aristotle
strongly emphasizes as the starting-point of his ethical teaching is
the τέλος and the ἀγαθόν. All men profess to have some object after
which they strive in their life and by their deeds; no man in this
world, as Goethe says, can safely live at random: the ship that sails
at random will be wrecked {148} even in a calm, and the man who lives
at random will be ruined without the help of any positive vice. What
then is it that men must propose to themselves as the τέλος, the
end, object, or purpose of their existence? Generally, all men profess
to be seeking for the ἀγαθόν, or the Good. The question,
therefore, which ethical science has to answer is, in the words of the
Westminster Catechism, _What is the chief end of man?_ What is the
ultimate aim and highest Good, the _summum bonum_, of which the
creature called Man is capable? How are we to discover this? Plainly
in the same way that we discover the chief good of any special kind of
man,--a man exercising any special professional function. What is the
_summum bonum_ of a flute-player? Of course to play the flute, and to
play the flute well; of a soldier, to fight well; of a shoemaker, to
make good shoes; of a brewer, to brew good beer; of a fowler, to snare
birds; and of an angler, to hook fish. The chief end, therefore, of
any creature is found by discovering his natural work or business in
the world,--for all things are full of labour, and a man’s duty is
always some kind of work. As, then, there is a special work for the
flute-player or the fowler, which determines his chief good, so, if we
are to find the chief end of man, we must put our finger on some
general work or business, which belongs to all men as men, and not as
engaged in special occupations and practising particular arts. How is
this work found? Of course by fixing our attention on the
differentiating element in the human creature. The differentiating
element in birds is wings, in fish fins, in worms rings. By this
differentiation, stamped on every creature by the absolute
dictatorship of {149} Nature, the destiny and the duty, the privilege
and the glory, of each type of organized existence is inevitably
determined. The creature has nothing to do in the matter but to
recognise and to obey; unreasoning creatures unconsciously and
blindly, choice. The proper work of man, therefore, can lie only in
what in him is most distinctively human; not therefore of course in
any function of the merely vegetative life which he has in common with
the plant; nor again in any function of the merely sensuous life,
which he enjoys in common with, oxen; but in the exercise of that
faculty which he alone possesses, and which alone stamps him as
distinctively human, viz., REASON. The work of a man, accordingly,
and the chief end of all men, will be an energizing of the soul,
according to reason, or not without reason; and a life according to
reason will be good, and the chief good; and not only so, but it must
also be the pleasure, and the highest pleasure, of the reasonable
being who leads such a life; for the pleasure of every creature lies
in acting freely and without hindrance according to its distinctive
nature; and as horses are the pleasure of the rider, and views of the
landscape painter, so good actions are the pleasure of good men, and
reasonable actions the delight of all who live by the use of reason;
so much so indeed, that he cannot even claim to be numbered amongst
good men who, besides doing good deeds, does not likewise rejoice in
doing such deeds. Charity given with an unwilling hand is not charity;
it is a boon extorted.

This statement taken almost literally from the first eight chapters of
the first book of the _Ethics_, will, it is hoped, make the moral
attitude of Aristotle {150} sufficiently intelligible. He does not
say, with Bentham and the modern utilitarians, “Look round about you
for what is pleasurable; and that which affords pleasure to you, and
to the greatest possible number of creatures with whom you are
socially connected, is your duty;” but he looks about to find your
distinctive excellence, your peculiar faculty among all
creatures,--“Exercise that,” he says, “and you fulfil your
destiny, and attain your chief good. As for pleasure, that you will
have also, not as an amulet hung about your neck, but in the very
necessity of your energy exercised according to your special nature.
Cultivate what is noblest in you, and you cannot fail to find what is
most agreeable. The doing of this, however, is by no means so simple
a matter as in the mere abstract statement might appear. It is the
business of a man, no doubt, to act reasonably, that is virtuously,
just as much as it is the business of a bee to bag honey; but it is a
much easier thing for the bee to suck honey from the flowers than for
a man to force fragrant deeds from the stuff that daily life presents.
How is this? The difficulty lies in the compound nature of man: a
nature not compound only, but composed of parts of which one is found
to be often strangely at variance with the others; so much so, indeed,
that while reason is the distinctive faculty of man, and to act
reasonably is at once his safety, his happiness, and his glory, he
bears within himself likewise a principle of unreason, an
ἄλογον opposed to his λόγος,--a principle in the normal
state of man altogether dependent and servile, but which, as things
are, has a strong tendency to rebel, assert an unruly independence,
and even cast down from his throne {151} the lawful regent of the
soul. This, the reader will remark, is exactly the doctrine of St.
Paul, with regard to the contrariety of Flesh and Spirit, in the
eighth chapter of the Romans, and expressed in almost the same terms.
The exact words of Aristotle are: “_There appear manifestly in human
beings some strong natural tendencies different from reason, and not
only different, but fighting with and resisting reason_.” But this
remarkable peculiarity in the complex creature Man does not in the
least change the nature of human good; it only adds to it another
element which makes it in the end more glorious--the element of
resistance, struggle, victory, and triumph,--of course always with the
necessary alternative of possible feebleness, cowardice, and defeat.
And the same fact,--the same original sin, as our theologians term
it,--nicely considered, raises a noticeable question about the origin
of laws and moral obligation; that old question so often discussed by
the Sophists, and argued, as we have seen, by Socrates, in his
discourse with Hippias, whether right and wrong exist by nature or by
institution, φύσει as they expressed it, or νόμῳ; and the
answer given to this question by the Stagirite, characterized by his
usual good sense, is that, while the determination of right and wrong
is not a matter of arbitrary, compulsory imposition, according to the
selfish theory of Hobbes, but lies deeply rooted in the innermost
recesses of human nature, it is nevertheless true that it is the
nature of man, more perhaps than of any other animal, to require
training and discipline to bring out what is in him; and that virtue,
in fact, is not virtue till the inborn impulses towards excellence
have been fostered and strengthened by those social {152} appliances
which lie in the very primary conditions of human life. We are made
virtuous, therefore, neither by nature, nor contrary to nature, nor
independently of nature, but we _grow_ virtuous by repeated acts of
living according to reason, as we learn to see by using our eyes.
Virtue is, in fact, a habit;[152.1] and as one fit of drunkenness does
not make a man a drunkard, so one act of generosity does not make a
generous man, and the whole roll of the virtues practised only once or
twice, however completely, does not make a virtuous man. Hence the
immense importance of education, which other animals may dispense
with, but not man, and on which, accordingly, both Plato and Aristotle
insist, as the one thing needful for the well-being, whether of the
individual or of society. The existence of innate tendencies towards
the Good does not in the least imply that human nature in its early
stages may be safely left to itself. These good tendencies may be
counteracted by opposite tendencies; they may be overwhelmed by
adverse circumstance; they may be extinguished; and experience proves
that they not seldom are extinguished.

Having laid this sure foundation in the differentiating element of
man, the philosopher might naturally have proceeded to prove that,
assuming man to be naturally a social animal, and widowed with those
instincts which make social organization necessary to his normal
existence, any application of reason to social existence, that is,
every assertion of practical reason in a creature so constituted, is
what we call {153} right, and every omission to assert it, or direct
assertion of the contrary, is what we call wrong. A right action is an
action according to the real constitution of things, which reality it
is the business of reason to discern; a wrong act is an act in
contravention of the real constitution of things, and can be performed
only when reason is undeveloped or asleep, or by some violent impulse
or blind illusion led astray: it is an act insulated, contumacious,
and rebellious, issuing necessarily in confusion and chaos and ruin;
for no single unit in a complex whole can assert its mere capricious
independent self in practical denial of the totality to which it
belongs, without producing discomfort at first, and ultimately being
crushed by the firm compactness of the mighty machinery which it has
recklessly dared to disturb. How this might have been demonstrated in
detail the reader of the preceding discourse on Socrates cannot be
ignorant; but however much it lay in his way, the Stagirite in his
Nicomachean treatise did not choose to enter upon this theme. For this
procedure he may have had two sufficient reasons; for, in the first
place, he may have thought that view of the matter lay too obviously
in the whole scheme and handling both of Plato and Socrates, to be
susceptible of much novelty at his hands; and in the second place, he
may have considered such a demonstration, however cogent in a book, to
be less practically useful than some test of right and wrong, which he
might be able to formulate. And in the test which he hits upon, as we
shall presently see, it is quite evident that practical utility rather
than theoretic invulnerability was his main object; and this is
precisely what, in consistency at once with the nature of the {154}
subject, and his own introductory observations, he was directly led to
do. His test was simply this, that virtue, or right conduct, is
generally found in the mean between two extremes; for though there may
be the same difficulty in pronouncing about the quality of particular
actions, sometimes, as there is in pronouncing about the state of
bodily health in any individual, yet, upon a broad view of both cases,
nothing seems more obvious and more certain than that the unhealthy
condition, whether of body or soul, is chiefly indicated by some
deficiency or excess. In other words, virtue is a medium, a balance, a
proportion, a symmetry, a harmony, a nice adjustment of the force of
each part in reference to the calculated action of the whole. Now, it
will at once be seen that this principle is not put forth as anything
new; its truth rather consists in its antiquity, and in the
deep-rooted experience of all human individuals and all human
associations. It is a principle which forms part of the proverbial
wisdom of all peoples; and the Greeks especially from the oldest times
were strong on this point. Μηδὲν ἄγαν--μέτρον ἄριστον--παντὶ μέσω τὸ
κράτος θεὸς ὤπασεν--were maxims familiar to every Greek ear long before
Aristotle; and in the realm of speculation, the ἀριθμός, or
_number_ of Pythagoras, when applied to morals, really meant nothing
else. So in the Proverbs of Solomon we find the well-known
utterances--“_Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient
for thee, lest thou be filled therewith and vomit it_.” And again:
“_Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise; why
shouldst thou destroy thyself? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou
foolish: why shouldst thou die before thy {155} time?_” And our
Shakespeare, whose plays are a grand equestrian march of all wisdom,
says to the same effect in his own admirable style--

 “These violent delights have violent ends,
 And in their triumph die: like fire and powder
 Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
 Is loathsome in his own deliciousness,
 And in the taste confounds the appetite:
 Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;
 Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”

What Aristotle enunciated therefore was merely the most commonplace
wisdom; and so much the better. Commonplace wisdom is the best kind of
wisdom for common needs and every-day occasions. It is too late in the
day now, and was too late in Aristotle’s time certainly, to be
discovering altogether new rules for keeping the consciences and the
stomachs of the human millions in good order. Things absolutely
necessary to healthy existence were necessarily known from the
earliest ages, unless indeed we imagine that the primeval man was
created in a state of physical and moral disease, that he might grope
and blunder his way into health, as some theorists assert that he
groped and blundered his way from a tiger into a moral being, and from
a monkey into a man. So far unquestionably, Henry Thomas Buckle was
right: there are no discoveries to be made in morals. We do not
discover the sun; we only recognise it when the clouds are blown and
the rain has exhausted itself. So it is in morals--in the light which
lighteth every man that cometh into the world. We do not discover
moral principles by a fingering induction, or in any other way; we
merely remove obstructions; we can apply the {156} bellows also and
blow the small spark into a mighty flame. Our endeavours therefore as
preachers, and as philosophers, like Aristotle, are not in vain. We
have much to do, if not in the way of discovering absolutely new
principles, certainly in a thousand and one ways of applying those
principles. A burning-glass when first invented did not discover the
sun; it utilized the sun. And in the same way the institution of every
new church or the establishment of every new school is an invention in
morals, though not a discovery of a new moral principle.
Sabbath-schools were a discovery in morals; Voluntary Churches were a
discovery in morals; Reform Bills were a discovery in morals. And in
the world of books, we must say also that the principle of the mean
asserted and systematically set forth in the Nicomachean Ethics was a
great discovery in moral philosophy. The discovery consisted in the
sagacity which seized, among a thousand others, a floating proverb, as
alone fit, or mainly fit, for being made the corner-stone of a
comprehensive canon of human conduct. To pick up a rough stone from
the road, and polish it, and set it in a ring, and carve upon it the
signature of the king’s imperial will, is no small achievement; and
this simile precisely appraises the merit of the Stagirite, in
reference to that old maxim μηδὲν ἄγαν, which we have just
quoted. He has stamped it with the authority of his own regal
intellect, in a manner appealing not less effectively to the analytic
habits of the scientific man, than to the broad views so dear to the
so-called practical man. And that he was grandly right in seizing upon
this rule of conduct, no person who has ever seriously applied,
himself to the wisdom of life, as to the one {157} thing needful, will
hare any difficulty in admitting. For there is hardly a man of any
self-knowledge who will not be willing to confess that the greatest
blunders he has made in the difficult game of life have arisen from
the neglect of this rule, as his most signal successes have sprung
from the observance of it. The attainment of this golden mean, indeed,
in one shape or another, is the constant problem of existence; and it
will be difficult to point out any defects of moral character which do
not arise either from a certain feebleness and deficiency of some
necessary practical energy, or from the exaggeration and
misapplication of virtues--a misapplication, be it observed, which
almost always proceeds from an excess; for as a mother is apt to have
her pet child, and an old maid her green parrot, her Skye terrier, or
her tortoise-shell cat, on which she spends the overflow of her
non-utilized sympathies, so every man is apt to have his pet virtue,
his idol excellence, on which he prides himself, and of which he is
fond of making a parade on all proper and improper occasions. It is
the excessive sway of the favourite affection that makes a man blind
to discern and weak to prevent its improper application. This is a
great truth--and somewhat of a comfortable truth, too; for to sin by
excess of good is always better than to offend from pure viciousness;
and man is upon the whole (notwithstanding the floating lies of the
hour, and the Devil’s Paradise in New York) a blundering rather than
a diabolical creature. The importance of Aristotle’s rule arises
from the fact that it is a regulative principle of universal
application; and in this way it may well be taken in the left hand,
along with the golden rule in the right {158} hand, “Do unto others
as ye would that they would do unto you;” for this sacred sentence
is founded on a just, delicate, and broad sympathy, and belongs rather
to the emotional element--the moral steam, so to speak--of our nature,
which, to avoid great perils, must always be associated with the
regulative principle of the mean, or something to that effect. These
two famous maxims indeed may, for practical purposes, be regarded as
complementary of each other. For persons in whom the sympathetic
emotions predominate are often deficient in the regulative faculty;
while those whose power of regulation is great have sometimes little
to regulate, and like a great commander with few soldiers, make a very
poor appearance in the battle-field. In the struggle of life, the man
whose sympathetic unselfish impulses are strong will perhaps find more
benefit from the constant reference to Aristotle’s mean than even to
the Scriptural golden rule; while the well-tempered Aristotelian will,
on the other hand, find it for his advantage to inquire whether the
even pace at which he goes is not as much owing to the dullness of the
charger’s blood as to the skill with which the rider wields the
rein. For there is no single maxim in morals that will conduct a man
through all practical difficulties without the consideration of some
other maxim qualifying it, and perhaps, for the nonce, giving it a
flat contradiction; as I have known a gentleman who confessed to me
that by nothing had he been led into so many serious blunders as by
the indiscriminate application of this very text, “Do unto
others,” etc.; for, being a man of a peculiar idiosyncrasy, and not
having learned that the golden rule applies only to that which we
{159} hold in common with our fellow-men, and not to those points on
which we differ, he was constantly led into a course of behaviour
towards certain persons, meant by him as a great kindness, but taken
as a serious offence. While he wished not to be troublesome, he was
considered to be neglectful; while he abstained from mentioning
certain subjects for fear of rousing painful feelings he was accused
of coldness and indifference; while he meant to be frank and
confiding, he was met with a rebuff that he was rude and impertinent.
All this shows how little mere preaching and parading of general
maxims has to do with the difficult task of the formation of
character; and no writer deserves greater praise for having gravely
enunciated this truth than the author of the Nicomachean Ethics. In
order fully to realize the value of the Aristotelian mean in the
conduct of life, we may follow the method of the great moralist
himself, and cull a few examples at random for its verification. We
shall take three virtues--courage, truthfulness, self-esteem--and see
how distinctly they stand out each as the middle-point of two vicious
extremes. That courage is the mean between cowardice and rashness does
not require to be told: but what a wide field of operation does this
triad open to us, while we proceed to realize it in education, and in
the conduct of public affairs, and in the events of life! What a nice
judgment is required to know at what exact point the too much and the
too little commences, where the right way swerves into an error of
which the consequences may be incalculable! For the mean point is
variable; and the hesitation which would be prudence in one person, or
on one occasion, is cowardice in another. A sailor sailing without a
{160} chart among blind reefs and strong currents--such as occur
everywhere in the Shetland seas--can scarcely be too cautions; with a
soldier, a bold dash into a difficulty with a fearlessness which can,
scarcely be distinguished from rashness is sometimes the nearest road
to a brilliant success. And as good amusements are a mimicry of life,
there is a moment at bowls, or croquet, or backgammon, or even
deliberate whist, when the fortune of a whole game may depend on a
move which at other times would be either the most stupid ignorance or
the most reckless folly. The wisdom of life, considered as a battle,
depends at every moment on the skill to know when to advance and when
to retreat, when to dash on with the spear, and when to crouch behind
the shield; to know this moment is to know the just mean between
rashness and cowardice, which the Greeks by a very significant name
called manhood (ἀνδρειότης) or courage. Take another virtue. Of all
commodities in the world, the most difficult to deal with is truth.
If, indeed, all men went about the streets, like Socrates, in search
of nothing but truth, and thanking everybody most fervidly for any
contribution to his stock of it, even in the most disagreeable shape,
truthfulness would be an easy virtue; as easy for a human being, one
might imagine, as for a quick fountain to spout water, and for an
eager fire to spit flame. But we all know it is not so--rather quite
otherwise, for truth is an article to which, except in so far as
particular truths may happen to prop up their prejudices, to flatter
their vanity, and to inflate their conceit, many persons have serious
objections. To fling it in their face is to insult them; to put it
down their throats, {161} even with a silver spoon and sugar-candy, a
difficult operation. Hence, in the conduct of life, the great
importance of not speaking too much truth, lest we frighten people,
and not speaking too little, lest we learn altogether to live upon
lies. In mixed society, on account of the extreme sensitiveness of all
sorts of vain and self-important persons, the rule is generally
adopted of speaking as little truth as possible--that is, as little
serious truth about important matters; for truth about trifles will
discompose no one. But this conventional reticence is by no means the
μεσότης which a reasonable compliance with the Aristotelian
rule in this case would require; for though a surplus of truth is sure
to make society uncomfortable, and a deluge of it makes it impossible,
a great deficiency will certainly make it tame and stupid; and this is
the extreme to which, in this country, we have lately been drifting
with a gentle, but not the less a dangerous, current. Even in our
pulpits we find a sort of cowardice sometimes formally enthroned, and
a tame coldness set up as the standard in a place where, above all
others, an indiscreet fervour might occasionally be allowed to pass
for full cousin to the greatest excellence. Take again, self-esteem,
which is partly an instinct, partly with wise men the result of that
self-knowledge which long and varied experience ought always to
produce. This is a moral mean perhaps even more difficult to strike
than truthfulness; for in speaking, or rather not speaking, the truth,
the principal difficulty a wise man has to deal with is the weakness
of a brother; whereas, in estimating himself, the wisest man is
constantly liable to be bribed by that love of self which, indeed, is
the necessary root of {162} our vitality, but never can be the
blooming crown of our glory. In reference to this quality, the general
tendency of the world is towards overestimate; most persons are apt to
measure too highly the value of their own particular strong point, and
to under-estimate, or altogether misprize, that of their neighbours;
as a gentleman in the month of August scouring the moors in triumph
with a gun will be apt to think himself a much more sublime character
than a poet lying lazily on a heather brae, and spinning out pretty
fancies to the tune of a brown burn that eddies lazily round an old
granite boulder; while the rhymer, on the other hand, thinks it a
daintier occupation to sympathize quietly with feathered life than to
take it away with powder and shot. So it is with us all, women as well
as men--

 “If a fair girl has but a pretty face,
 She has the wit to know it.”

And there is no reason why she should not know it. If a woman does not
know her points, according to a high authority, she cannot even dress
well; only, experience has proved that the less men and women think
about their strong points, except, of course, when they are dressing,
the better; for there is no more certain way of committing suicide on
the higher moral nature than by falling in love with ourselves. In
reference to this matter, therefore, it may be thought that the other
and less common extreme is the more safe--it is better to think too
lowly of ourselves than too highly. And it is a fact, capable of being
proved from a hundred biographies, that the greatest men have been the
least given to self-glorification; that modesty, as is commonly said,
{163} is the invariable accompaniment of genuine power, while forward
conceit, and empty inflation, and boastful exhibition of all kinds,
are the natural characteristics of the young, the superficial, and the
small. The under-estimate of self often found in connexion with the
highest genius, especially in the early period of its experiments,
arises naturally from the high ideal of perfection, by the
contemplation of which excellence grows. No young man who puts a few
well-adjusted and well-toned figures together on a piece of canvas can
know, and certainly ought never to imagine, that he carries Raphael
and Michael Angelo, and something better than both perhaps, in his
bosom. But though this be true, I do not know whether I have not seen
more sad mistakes made in life by persons who were rather depressed by
too little than elevated by too much self-esteem. I have sometimes
thought that the conceit so natural to young men is given to them by a
gracious provision as a superfluity that is sure to be pruned off. The
world is constantly employed in pulling down outrageous conceit; but
when a poor fellow starts in the hot race of life, afflicted with that
disease which the Greeks call δυσωπία, or _difficult-facedness_--that
is, so modest as not to be able to look a fellow-being in the face--I
must confess, though I have a kindly feeling towards a person so
deficient which I never can have to the smart and pert self-conscious
mannikin, I feel that the defect of the one is a much greater
misfortune, and a malady much more difficult to cure, than the excess
of the other. With some persons, and indeed whole families, the
tendency to underrate their own capacity acts like a positive taint in
the blood; it cuts the wing from hope, dulls the nerve {164} of
aspiration, and palsies the arm of action. It makes an honest man
useless where God has put him, and opens the door for a dishonest man
with a little natural confidence to do badly what the honest man for
sheer lack of confidence has not been able to do at all. The man of
defective self-esteem thus commits two great wrongs--he wrongs
himself, because he allows himself to be shunted out of his natural
sphere, and becomes a hindrance where he might have been a help; and
he wrongs the public, which lacks both the insight and the leisure to
drag modest merit from its den and to look with an unwinking eye on
the juggling glamoury of the bold pretender.

But it is not only in the phases of individual character and the
experiences of personal life that the validity of the Aristotelian
standard of well-being is strongly asserted. In every sphere of
existence through the various drama of the cosmos, we find the same
principle in operation. And we may, without qualification, broadly
pronounce that the world is a κόσμος, an ordered and garnished
whole, only in so far as it is held together by the harmonizing law of
the mean; otherwise it jerks asunder, and through violent excess bolts
into chaos. Take what we call Health, for instance; what is it but the
rhythmical medium, of normal pulse between the excess of fever and the
defect of feebleness? which two extremes, as the common saying is,
necessarily meet; for they are both equally removed from healthy life,
and sisters-uterine to death and dissolution. Then, again, what is
Beauty? A power which all feel, but few can define; neither shall I
attempt to define it now. But one thing at least in reference to it is
quite plain, that it is always a medium {165} betwixt two extremes,
or, what comes to the same thing, a marriage of extremes. For by such
a marriage, as we see in the commonest processes of chemical action, a
mean product is produced of a comparatively mild and innocuous
character. The corrosive acid or alkali is annihilated and a neutral
salt comes to view. Exactly so in works of nature or art on which the
imagination can pleasantly dwell. No extreme is beautiful. The extreme
of force overwhelms; the extreme of gentleness enfeebles and
enervates. Therefore, to make a handsome man, we must borrow a few
tricks of grace from the female; and to make a woman who shall be more
than an animated rose or primrose, we must find her infected with a
certain dose of firmness and energy from the male. A mere masculine
creature, composed altogether of the extreme of strength and force, is
disagreeable, and often unbearable; a mere feminine creature in the
extreme of delicacy, however finely tinted with the “_dolce mistura
di rosa e di ligustro_,” which Ariosto lauds, if she is capable only
of a gentle smile and a soft caress, very soon becomes tiresome. She
is the extreme of the mere woman, and, like a cooing turtle-dove, soon
satiates; and at the apparition of such an unfeathered pigeon we yawn,
as from the fully-developed unmitigated male bear we shrink. But it is
in the great movements of the social world--in the rise and fall of
stock and commercial speculations--no less than in the slow changes
and violent revolutions of Churches and States, that the operation of
the Aristotelian mean is most strikingly exemplified. Moderation,
indeed, both in Church and State, and on ’Change, is the one great
condition of safety--no proposition {166} in Euclid is more certain
than this: but though this be the wisdom of government and of trade,
it is a wisdom which political, commercial, and ecclesiastical
adventurers in all ages have been slow to learn; and in public life we
constantly meet with persons who act and speak as if they believed
that the triumph of an extreme view is ever the triumph of right, and
that the well-being of communities consists in the unlimited sway of
one party and the complete annihilation of all others. And it may be
said also, that, notwithstanding all the warnings of centuries of
bloody experience, the man or the party that takes the strong
one-sided violent view has, on critical occasions, the best chance to
succeed. Wisdom in the days of Solomon lifted up her voice in the
streets, and was not heard. It is even so now. The streets are not the
place for wisdom. Wisdom requires calm reflection; but the streets are
full of hurry and bustle. Aristotle had a serene contempt for the
multitude, and the multitude have an instinctive aversion to
Aristotle. When you bring a multitude of men together to be harangued,
violent and extreme opinions pronounced in the strongest language are
apt to be the most popular. A one-sided view taxes thought less; a
one-sided speech flatters an ignorant audience, who are capable only
of one idea--at least only of one at a time--and who delight to hug
themselves in the fancy that there is no other idea in the universe.
And the natural leader of a multitude so affected is not, of course,
your man of many thoughts, your Aristotle, your Shakespeare, your
Goethe, but your well-packed, self-contained, little man, full of
bottled fire impatient to burst forth, who marches from his cradle to
his grave capable only {167} of one aspect of things, and who, if the
notion by which he is governed happens to jump with the humour of the
time, shall become the demagogue of the hour, or, if circumstances
favour, the dictator of the age. When, indeed, we consider the
undeniable fact that great social changes are generally effected
through the agency of excited multitudes and highly stimulated
parties, we shall not be surprised at the result so often exhibited in
history. That result shows bloody civil wars instead of peaceful
arrangement; faction instead of patriotism; and an oscillation between
feverish extremes, instead of a well-calculated balance of social
forces. The revolutions and reforms which fill the most interesting
pages of history teem with examples of this kind. These revolutions
and reforms are of two kinds--remedial and constructive, or
disintegrating and destructive; and the history of both equally
illustrates the hopelessness--perhaps it were more correct to say the
impossibility--of expecting wisdom and moderation to perform a
prominent part in the management of the congregated millions of
diverse and hostile-minded men under the passionate influences that
accompany organic change. For these things are generally done in the
manner of a battle: parties get heated; the blood is up; first ink is
shed in oceans, then gall, then blood; and who expects moderation from
men with partisan pens or poignards in their hands, and carrying on a
systematic trade in all sorts of misrepresentation, slander, and lies?
We read sometimes, indeed, of a whole people having by a happy
accident found out their wisest man--as in the notable example of
SOLON--and oligarchs and democrats voluntarily submitting themselves
to {168} him as a just and legal arbiter. The result in this case, as
we read, was what might have been expected. The wise man produced a
wise constitution. The contending claims of the adverse parties were
adjusted with moderation; and a mingled polity, presenting a just
medium between oligarchy, the cold selfishness of the few, and
democracy, the overbearing insolence of the many, was the result. But
nothing human is permanent; and the next changes did not proceed so
comfortably. The democracy, inflated with their military successes at
Marathon and Salamis, would tolerate no check; their Areopagus, or
House of Lords, was shorn of all influence; the extravagant ambition
of their popular assemblies was fooled to the top of its bent by the
unprincipled brilliancy of adventurers like Alcibiades; the constant
necessity of maintaining political influence by flinging sops to a
greedy multitude produced, as we see in America at the present hour, a
corruption of public morals, and a deterioration of the character of
public men, against which all patriotic remonstrances were weak:
faction assumed the helm; venality became law; and at the moment of
danger, when the young Macedonian snake might yet have been crushed,
there was found only one honest man among the noisy haranguers of the
Pnyx. And to him they listened only when it was too late. Thus, by the
excess of democratic polity fostered by Pericles, the insolence of
democratic ambition spurred by Alcibiades, the languor that followed
the over-exertion of the Peloponnesian War, and the corruption that
belongs to every extreme form of government, Athens forfeited her
short lease of brilliant liberty, and became a slave for more than two
thousand years. A similar scene {169} was exhibited in the Roman
Forum, which, however, I must refrain from painting out in detail
here. Suffice it to say that, so long as a moderate balance between
patricians and plebeians was maintained, the Aristocratic Republic of
Rome prospered at home and conquered abroad; but no sooner had the
democracy, by the Hortensian law of B.C. 286, asserted the right of
acting alone in legislative measures, without the co-operation of the
Roman House of Lords (that is, the Senate), than the seed of
destruction was sown. The two parties were now planted face to face on
independent ground; two masters in the same house claimed equal power;
the peaceful balance became a battle-field; assassinations in the
Forum were the harbingers of butcheries in protracted dramas of civil
slaughter; violence was followed by exhaustion; and on the bloody
steps of a democratic Tribunate the armed nursling of the democracy
mounted the throne of universal despotism. So the public life of
Ancient Rome ended with faction and a native military monarchy, as
that, of Greece in faction and subjection to a foreign power. There
are some people of a happy innocence of mind who believe that we in
modern times, by the help of Christianity and schoolmasters, may haply
escape all these evils and flourish in a green immortality on the
earth, if not under present circumstances exactly, at least by and by
with the help of manhood suffrage, ballot-boxes, unbearded
politicians, and a few other democratic imaginations. I am sorry to
say that I do not in the least share in these anticipations: only
under one condition is it possible that modern States should escape
the disintegrating process which annihilated the constitutions of
Ancient Greece and {170} Rome--they must study moderation; they must
be converted to the doctrine of Aristotle; otherwise they must perish.
That in free constitutions public affairs should be managed by the
oscillations of opposing parties is necessary and natural: the
annihilation of parties is possible only with the prostration of
liberty; but the eternal truth still remains, that if parties will not
acknowledge certain wise limitations, but push their hostility to
extremes, the preservation of national liberty is impossible. If, when
organic reforms are necessary, the wise and moderate men of all
parties will unite together to make such changes as will satisfy the
just demands of new claimants, without destroying the equally just
rights of the old, then, so far as political forces of corruption are
concerned, the durability of a constitution may be looked upon as
secured; but if the parties, instead of working for a patriotic
purpose, are more concerned for the momentary success of a
parliamentary manœuvre than for the ultimate triumph of a great
principle--if, instead of wisely and courageously confronting a
violent and unreasonable clamour and quashing outrageous folly with
statesmanlike firmness, they waver, and flinch, and yield, and even
condescend to the base game (practised in ancient Rome and mediæval
Florence) of outbidding one another in cowardly concessions to an
untempered multitude--in this case, neither Christianity nor
schoolmasters can save any modern State from perdition, either on this
or on the other side of the Atlantic. For there is not one law of
morality for the individual and another for public men, but they are
both the same; and it is not so much the form of government as the
tone of political morality, {171} and the character of politicians,
that saves or ruins a State. If in any country the management of
public affairs falls into the hands of men who make a trade of
politics, and employ an organized machinery of violence, and lies, and
intrigue, for the purpose of getting into power; and if they consider
power valuable, not for the purpose of moderating popular passions and
exposing popular delusions, but for keeping their party in place by
spreading full sails to the popular breeze, then that country is
already in the hands of the destroying Siva, and no constitution can
save it. Political wisdom is not to be expected from men who enter the
game of public life with the recklessness of professional gamblers;
and that army will scarcely be looked to for noble achievements in the
field which, with Selfishness for its god, has chosen Cunning for its
captain, and planted Cowardice for a guard.

In these last remarks we have wandered beyond the strict bounds of the
present essay into the domain of Politics, and the Art of Government,
but not without design; for the _Politics_ and the _Ethics_ are with
the Stagirite only two parts of the same work; as indeed with the
Greeks generally, personal ethics were always conceived of in
connexion with the State, in the same way that with thorough and
consistent Christians the fruits of social virtue cannot be divorced
from the root of theological faith of which they are the consummation.
And whoever studies the great treatise on the Art of Government with
that care, which more than any other work of antiquity its weighty
conclusions demand, will not fail to observe that the key-note to the
whole political system lies in that μεσότης, or just mean,
{172} which is the prominent principle of the _Ethics_. But this by
the way. What remains for us now, in order that the modern thinker may
have a full view of the attitude of Aristotle as a moral philosopher,
is that we exhibit him discoursing in his own person on some one of
those types of social character, which in his third and fourth books
he has so skilfully analysed. For this purpose we shall choose the
section on μεγαλοψυχία or _great-mindedness_, a chapter eminently
characteristic both of the writer and of the people to whom he
belonged, and presenting also, one of the most striking of those
contrasts between the attitude of Hellenic and that of Christian
ethics, which it is one object of the present volume to set forth. The
Chapter is the third of Book IV.

“That great-mindedness has reference to something great is plain
from the name; let us inquire therefore, in the first place, to what
great things it refers; and here it is of no consequence whether we
talk formally of the moral habitude itself, or of the person who
possesses that habitude. Now, a great-minded person is one who esteems
himself worthy of great things, being in fact so worthy; for the man
who claims for himself what he does not deserve is a fool; but in
virtue there can be nothing foolish or unintelligent. This therefore
is the great-minded man. For though a person’s estimate of himself
should be just, for example, if, being worthy of little consideration,
he esteems himself accordingly, such an one we call sober-minded, but
not great-minded; for without a certain magnitude there is no
greatness of soul, just as beauty demands a certain stature, and
little people may indeed be pretty and well-proportioned, but they
{173} are never called beautiful.[173.1] On the other hand, the man
who esteems himself worthy of great things, being not so worthy, we
call pretentious and conceited; though not every one who
over-estimates in some degree his real worth is justly charged with
conceit. And in the opposite extreme to this, the man who claims less
than he deserves is small or mean-minded, whether his real desert be
something great or something moderate; and he remains small-minded
also, if, while he is worthy of little, he rates himself at less. But
the greatest offender in this case is he who, being worthy of great
things, nevertheless considers himself worthy of little or of nothing;
for how deep might such a man’s self-esteem have fallen if he had
been really as devoid of moral desert as even with so much real merit
he rates himself? Now the great-minded man, in respect of comparative
magnitude, seems to stand at an extreme, but in respect of
self-estimate he is the just mean; for his estimate of himself falls
neither within nor beyond the mark of truth, while the others fail on
the one side by excess, and on the other by defect. Further, the man
who deems himself worthy of great things, being so worthy, of course
deems himself worthy of the greatest things, and of one thing,
whatever that be, pre-eminently great. What then do we mean when we
say that a man is worthy, that he may justly claim great things or
small things? We use {174} this language always in reference to
something external. And the greatest of external things is that which
we pay to the gods, and that which men in the highest situations
chiefly desire, and for which among men there arises the most noble
struggle of the most noble. This, of course, is honour; for honour is
the greatest of external goods. It is in reference therefore to
demonstrations of honour and dishonour that the great-minded man
comports himself as a wise man ought. And indeed this is a point which
requires only to be stated, not argued; for it is manifest that
great-minded men everywhere are spoken of as being great-minded in
reference to honour; for it is honour above all things of which truly
great men think themselves worthy, and that in the measure of their
desert. But the small-minded man is deficient both in relation to
himself and in relation to the dignity that belongs to the
great-minded, while the conceited man no doubt sins by excess in
reference to his own merit, but not in reference to the high estimate
of himself justly entertained by the great-minded man.

“Again, it is obvious that the great-minded man, if he is worthy of
the greatest consideration, must be not only a good man, but one of
the very best; for always the better a man is the greater is his
desert, and the best man alone may claim the most. The really
great-minded man, therefore, must be good; or rather, let us say that
to be entitled to the praise of great-mindedness a man must be great
in all virtue. Least of all, certainly, is it consistent with the
character of a great-minded man to droop his crest at the face of
danger and run away, or to do any act of injustice; for why should a
man do anything dishonourable, {175} to whom even the greatest things
in the world are small measured by the estimate that he entertains of
his own worth? And, indeed, it is quite ridiculous to imagine a man of
genuine great-mindedness who is not at the same time a virtuous man.
For, if he is bad he is certainly not worthy of honour, honour which
is the reward of virtue, and is given only to the good. Let us say
therefore that great-mindedness is a sort of crown and blossom of the
virtues, for it elevates all the virtues, and without them it cannot
exist. For which reason it is a hard thing to be truly great-minded;
for this elevation of the soul is not possible without general
goodness. We see therefore that it is with demonstrations of honour
and dishonour that the great-minded man is principally concerned; and
it is characteristic of him, that when great honour is done him by
good persons, he is pleased, but always moderately, because on every
occasion he only gets what he deserves, or perhaps less; because, in
fact, virtue never can receive a proper equivalent for itself in the
shape of anything external: he will not, however, reject any such
offering, however inferior to his merits, because he will consider
that people have given the best they had to give. But the honour that
he receives for small services, and from persons of no excellence, he
will hold very cheap; for it is not of such respect that he considers
himself worthy. Exactly similar is his relation to dishonour; for
disrespect in no kind can under any circumstances have reference to
him. But honour, though the principal, is not the only external thing
that belongs to the great-minded man; money, and power, and
prosperity, and their opposites, affect him also in their proper place
and degree, in such a {176} fashion always as that he shall neither be
much elevated by their presence, nor much depressed by their absence.
For not even the absence of that honour, which he justly claims, will
he allow to affect his peace very deeply, much less the withholding of
that wealth and that influence, which are desired by the good only for
the sake of the honour which they bring with them. He therefore who
can look calmly on the absence of that which is most desired, will not
break his heart because he finds himself destitute of those things
which are valued only as they contribute to the attainment of that
desire. For this reason it is that men of a high self-esteem are apt
to appear proud and contemptuous. It would appear also that the
accidents of birth and fortune contribute in some degree towards
great-mindedness; for persons of noble birth are considered worthy of
honour, and persons of great influence, and wealthy persons; and there
is a superiority belonging to all such persons, which brings a certain
amount of honour along with it that is grateful to a good man. And it
cannot be denied that such things have a tendency to engender a
certain loftiness of soul, for they are never without honour from some
quarter. Nevertheless the only thing really deserving of honour is
virtue, though where virtue is conjoined with these external
advantages it will always command a latter share of public respect.
But those who possess such external advantages without virtue have
neither any reason for thinking themselves deserving of great
consideration, nor are they properly called great-minded; for it is
only of those who possess virtue that such things can be predicated.
On the contrary, those who possess such external goods are apt to
{177} become insolent and haughty. For without virtue it is by no
means easy to bear prosperity well; and, not bearing it well, such
persons are apt to conceit themselves better than their neighbours,
and to despise them, while themselves spend their lives at random, and
do what chance throws in their way. For they imitate the manner of the
great-minded man, not being like him in soul; and, while they do
nothing on which a lofty estimate of themselves might justly be
founded, they find it easy to usurp an apparent superiority by looking
down upon their fellow-men. This superiority belongs of right to the
great-minded man, for his opinion of himself is founded on reality;
but these, as chance may have thrown some exceptional tag of
distinction in their way, despise their neighbours. Again, the
great-minded man is not fond of running petty risks, nor indeed is it
by rash and hasty ventures in any shape that he would catch a small
breath of honour; but when a great risk presents itself then he
willingly confronts danger, and spares not his life, as deeming life
secondary when higher interests are concerned. Moreover, in reference
to benefits, he is more given to confer than to receive them; for he
who confers a benefit always stands in a position of superiority,
while he on whom it is conferred feels inferior. And when a benefit is
conferred on him, he will repay it in larger measure; for thus the
benefactor will seem to be put under a new obligation, having received
more than he gave. He seems also to have a more wakeful memory for
those on whom he has conferred benefits, than for those from whom he
has received them; for the person benefited is always inferior to the
person conferring the benefit, {178} and the great-minded man always
wishes to feel superior. And he does not hear of benefits conferred on
him with the same pleasure as benefits which he has conferred on
others, for which reason in Homer Thetis does not commemorate her
services to Jove; and in the same way the Spartans do not speak to the
Athenians of the benefits they have conferred on Athens, but of those
which they have received. It is also a mark of the great-minded man
that he will either not ask a favour at all, or do it with difficulty;
on the other hand, he is ready to do a service to all, but with this
difference, that while he bears himself loftily to those high in
position and worldly fortune, he is of easy access and condescending
to the common man; for not to bow before the mighty is not easy, and
is possible only to those who are inspired by a high sense of personal
worth, whereas with common men any man may plant himself on an
equality; and indeed even a little excess of pride in the presence of
the proud is never ignoble, while to be haughty to those beneath us is
always the sign of a vulgar mind, and a person of low ambition, as
when one makes a vaunt of strength before the weak. Again, the
great-minded man will not be the first to seize on honourable
distinctions when offered, but he will gladly let others precede,
being slow and backward, except, indeed, where a difficult thing is to
be done, and a very rare honour achieved; generally he will meddle
with few things, but what he does put his hand to must be something
great and nameworthy. We may further note that he will be open and
above ground, whether in his hatreds or his friendships, for to
conceal a man’s feelings is usually a sign of fear. And in every
case he will {179} be found more concerned for truth than for opinion,
and he will shrink as little from an act as from a word that the
occasion may demand; for his contempt of small men and small things
makes him indifferent as to results, and inspires him with a lofty
confidence. For which reason also he is much given to speak the truth,
except indeed when he wishes to speak ironically; and it is his delight
to use a little humorous self-concealment or self-misrepresentation
when he speaks in mixed company. Neither is he able easily to adapt
himself to another person, unless, indeed, that person be a special
friend, for in this ready adaptability there is generally implied
something slavish, as we see that flatterers have always something
menial in their character, and low persons more readily condescend to
flatter. Nor again is the great-minded man much given to wonder; for
to him there is nothing great. As little is he apt to store up a
grudge; for a great-minded man will not remember trifles, especially
petty offences, but will rather overlook them. Nor will he indulge in
personal remarks of any kind, speaking little either about himself or
others; for neither is he careful to be praised, nor pleased that
others should be blamed; as little is he given to laud other people,
or, on the other hand, to speak evil of others, even when they are his
enemies, except perhaps occasionally, when insolence requires to be
chastised. Further, about necessary evils, or vexatious trifles, he is
not the man to make many bewailings and beseechings, for to behave in
this manner a man must take these things much to heart, which he never
can. And oftentimes he will be found preferring what is noble and
brings no profit, to what is useful and gainful, {180} for his
self-dependence stands out the more thereby. Finally, as to his
appearance and manner, it will be noted that the great-minded man is
slow in his movements, that his voice is deep, and his discourse
weighty, for it is not natural that one who is not anxious about small
matters should be in a hurry, or that a person should be very much
excited on common occasions, to whom common matters are unimportant.
Such then is the great-minded man. The two extremes between which he
represents the mean, are, as we have said, the man of low
self-estimate and the man of large pretensions and conceit. Now these
two are manifestly not bad men, for they are not evil-doers; they only
miss the ideal of what is true and noble in character. For the man who
thinks meanly of himself, depriving himself of what he might justly
claim as his due, though not a vicious man, suffers under a great vice
of character, the defect of not knowing himself; for had he known
himself, he would certainly have desired to possess the good things to
which he has a natural right. At the same time such a person is not to
be called foolish; he is only backward. But such a misprision of
one’s self, however removed from flagrant viciousness, has
unquestionably a tendency to deteriorate the character; for the
imagination of their own unworthiness, by which these persons are
possessed, not only cheats them of valuable external good which might
naturally have fallen to their lot, but it causes them also to retire
from many noble and excellent spheres of usefulness, and to shrink
from the performance of most excellent actions. A conceited man, on
the other hand, is both foolish and self-ignorant, and exhibits
himself in a more {181} ridiculous fashion to the general eye; for
deeming himself fit for some honourable office, the moment he appears
in public his inefficiency is exposed, and he parades himself in showy
dress, and puts himself into attitudes, and wishes that the whole
world should take notice of his good fortune, and claims honour as
rightfully due to him for such display. There is, however, a greater
opposition between the man who thinks meanly of himself and the
great-minded man, than between this man and the conceited, person; for
in truth the mean abnegation of self, the cheapening of a man’s
capabilities, and despair of all lofty achievement, is of more common
occurrence amongst the masses, and on account of its negative
character leads in the practical warfare of life to more sad
results.”[181.1]

For commenting on some of the remarkable characteristics of this
chapter, hovering as they do so delicately on the slippery border that
separates a justifiable pride from a salutary humility, more apt
occasion may present itself in our next discourse; in the meantime it
will serve more the purpose of the present inquiry to ask, whether
there may not be grave objections to a system of ethics based on the
mere prudential calculation of a mean? and whether, granting this
calculation to be wise and salutary, so far as it goes, it may not
require to be strengthened by some stronger force than any which the
philosophy of the Stagirite supplies? Now, in the first place, here
there is one very common class {182} of objections to the doctrine of
the μέσον, to which we hope the whole tone of our previous
remarks has already supplied the answer. “_Is it possible_,” some
one has often asked, “_to possess too much love? Of what good
emotion is envy the exaggeration? Can any modification of spite be
virtuous? Can any mere deficiency of the quality of truth account for
the viciousness of a positive lie?_” To some of these objections
Aristotle has himself supplied the answer; but the best general answer
to all is their impertinence as bearing upon a treatise which does not
pretend to set forth a curious definition, proof against every subtle
objection, but only to supply a useful practical rule. Whosoever
accepts the _Nicomachean Ethics_ in the practical spirit in which it
was written, will soon find, perhaps by no very pleasant experience,
that there is nothing more common among good people than to have too
much even of such a rare virtue as Christian love; for there is too
much always when there is too much for the occasion, or too much for
the use or the abuse that is likely to be made of it; and unchastened
generosity, inconsiderate philanthropy, and indiscriminate kindness
are certainly not among the rarest of social faults. Equally certain
is it that some of our most odious vices are only the despotic
usurpations of certain instincts, natural and healthy in themselves,
and when acting under the habitual check of other instincts equally
natural, so as to preserve the just balance of a harmonious whole.
Thus envy is merely the natural fruit of a salutary rivalry, when a
generous sympathy is wanting; it is an odious state of mind arising
out of an excess of rivalry on the one hand, and a deficiency of
sympathy on the other. Let this style {183} of objections therefore
pass. But a more serious deficiency in the Aristotelian doctrine seems
to reveal itself, when it is said, This morality is merely prudential
and calculating; it regulates but it does not move: it supplies the
pilot at the helm, and gives him a curiously marked compass to steer
by, but it leaves the ship in a stagnant ocean without wind and
without tides. Now there is something in this objection, but not
nearly so much as appears on the surface. Aristotle certainly is not
an emotional writer; he does not stir the affections; he will never be
a favourite with women, or with poets, or with evangelists, or with
any person--and this is by no means the worst sort of person--whose
head requires to be reached through his heart. It is not true,
however, that he commits the folly of attempting to construct a
steam-engine without steam. He finds the steam there, and the engine
too ready-made, and his only object is to supply a regulator, because
a regulator is the chief thing wanted. Whatever an unprincipled or
paradoxical Sophist here and there might assert, neither Aristotle nor
any notable philosopher of antiquity ever thought it necessary, to
commence his moral theory with a systematic controversion of the
Hobbesian doctrine that man is naturally all selfish, a creature that
if left without policemen and executioners would necessarily grow up
into a mere intellectual tigerhood. Aristotle assumed, and expressly
asserts, that man is naturally a social animal; the social instincts
which form families and friendships, clanships and nationalities,
being among the most marked peculiarities of his complex nature:
these instincts, he knew well, constantly exist in sufficient and more
{184} than sufficient strength; they bubble out like streams from the
mountain side, which require only a calculated control to make them
useful; they are the luxuriant overgrowth of a rich soil, which
demands, not the stimulus of a strong manure, but the check of a wise
pruning-hook. That this was Aristotle’s view is quite plain; for he
not only believes in nature generally, as opposed to the institutions
and conventions (νόμος) so much in favour with the Sophists, but
he devotes two whole books to what he calls Φιλία, a word
commonly translated “friendship,” but which in the Nicomachean
Ethics is used in the widest sense to designate all the social
sympathies and feelings implanted in man by Nature, with the relations
springing therefrom; and this part of his work, as Grant well
observes, is treated with a depth and moral earnestness that makes the
reader feel the supreme importance attached to it by its illustrious
author.[184.1] Aristotle therefore is not to be blamed for ignoring
the great motive powers of moral life; he only does not directly
address them; it was not his vocation; he was no poet, no apostle; and
even without poets and apostles, Nature, he might well imagine, was
always strong enough for that part of the business. But even without
the fervid wheels of passion there lies in the Aristotelian
philosophy, at least for a certain class of noble minds, a driving
power of the most approved efficiency. That driving power is simply
the love of perfection. “_Be ye therefore perfect, even as your
Father which is in heaven is perfect_.” To live in the most
excellent way, according {185} to the true excellence of man, is the
constant ideal of an Aristotelian philosopher. And so long as the
lofty consciousness of this ideal bears him up, he requires neither
whip nor spur to incite him to continue in a virtuous career. He acts
in the true spirit of the poet when he says--

 “I would do all that best beseems a man;
 Who would do less is none.”

Or, as Burns has it in the well-known lines,--

 “The fear o’ hell’s the hangman’s whip
  To haud the wretch in order;
 But whaur you feel your honour grip,
  Let that aye be your border.”

This is not a bad driving power by any means in the world, as things
go. True, it may not make a man a missionary, but it will keep him out
of the mire, and teach him sooner to die than to do a base action.
Certainly it will not confine him to the performance of virtues of
mere prudential calculation.

So far well. But there is another view which, if we honestly take, we
shall find it impossible to acquit the Aristotelian morals of a very
serious defect. This defect is the want of the religious element. In
saying this I do not mean to assert that God--or rather the gods--are
not mentioned from beginning to end of his famous book; they are
alluded to in several places, but merely in the form of a passing
remark, as a pedestrian with a long day’s journey before him may
pick up a primrose from a moist bank, or a fragrant orchis from a dry
brae, and fling it away. Now, there is nothing more nobly
characteristic of Christianity than this, that piety is identical
{186} with morality; that faith and works--not ritual, or ceremonial,
or externally imposed works at all, of course, but genuine works of
moral fervour and moral firmness--are one; stand to one another, at
least, as the root does to the flower, or the fruit of a wholesome
plant, of which not the root but the fruit is the valuable part. That
this is the only true and philosophical relation of the two great
moral potencies no thinker will deny. Or, to take another simile,
which will suit equally well: Every arch must have its keystone; and
the keystone of every solid doctrine of ethics, as of every close
compacted system of speculative philosophy, is God. That there is a
great defect here in the Aristotelian ethics is plain. A man might as
well write a treatise on the Affections without mention of reverence,
as set forth a system of morals without mention of God. As the
discipline of a well-ordered family implies the recognition of the
father as the great source from which the family flows--as the prime
power by which it is regulated--so a treatise on human ethics implies
a chapter on human piety, or rather a pervading soul of human piety,
without which all other chapters want their highest inspiration. And
in this view the Aristotelian author of the “_Magna Moralia_” is
wrong in blaming Plato for mingling up the doctrine of Virtue with
discussions on the Absolute Good--that is, God. It is important to
inquire what was the cause of this defect. That the subject was not
altogether ignored by our philosopher is plain from the single
sentence of allusion in Book viii. 12. 5; and, indeed, that a man of
such reach of intellect should by mere accident or carelessness have
omitted such an important factor in all moral calculations {187} seems
in the highest degree improbable; but so far is the idea of God from
giving any colour to his system of Moral Philosophy, that the very
occurrence of the phrase, θεραπεύειν τὸν θεόν, in the last section
of the Eudemian Ethics, has been justly adduced by Grant among the
many proofs of the inauthenticity of that treatise. That Aristotle
was a theist is certain, both from other places of his voluminous
writings, and specially from a famous passage in the _Metaphysics_
which has lately been brought forward with due prominence by the
noble-minded Bunsen in his great work, _God in History_; it seems
impossible, indeed, for such a profound thinker as Aristotle to be an
atheist, because, as Schleiermacher well remarks, “Philosophy cannot
inquire into the totality of things, without at the same time
inquiring into their unity, and as the totality of things is the
world, so the unity of things is God;” or, as Spinoza has it in one
of his propositions--“_Quicquid est in Deo est, et nihil sine Deo
neque esse neque concipi potest_.” But it is one thing to be a
theist as a matter of speculative belief, and another thing to be a
man of devout temper and pious practice. And herein, if I mistake not,
lies the real cause of the defect in the Ethics now under
consideration. For if Aristotle had been a man of any fervour of
religious sentiment, he had two courses before him with regard to the
Greek religion, neither of which he has followed--he might either,
like his great master Plato, or Xenophanes of Colophon among the
pre-Socratic thinkers, have attacked the Homeric theology, and shown
how its general tendency and some of its most distinctive features
were inconsistent with a pure and elevated morality, or, like
Socrates, {188} Xenophon, Pindar, Æschylus, Plutarch, and many other
far-sighted and large-hearted men, he might have taken Jove as the
impersonated Providence of Hellenic piety, and, allowing the immoral
deities quietly to drop, shown how all the highest qualities of the
moral nature of man are collected and concentrated in the supreme
sovereign of gods and men. In the one case, he would have shown his
zeal for true religion by his zealous iconoclasm of false gods; in the
other case, he might have shown a still nobler form of piety by his
kindly exhibition of the soul of good in things evil. But he did
neither of these things; and the conclusion plainly is that the
omission arose from a defect in his mental constitution, which
curtailed the reverential faculties of their fair proportions. From
all which we learn a most important lesson: that the analytic work of
the mere understanding, even when practised by a Titan like Aristotle,
is an inadequate method of reaching the highest form of vital reality,
or, to use the words of Grant, it forces even the greatest minds at
times to degenerate into a sort of smallness; and, generally, that
mere intellectual culture never can of itself produce a complete and
healthy manhood--never can elaborate for a human soul that rich blood
which then only appears when the watery element of the understanding
is thoroughly permeated by the red particles of the moral and
emotional nature. So true is it, to use St. Paul’s language, that
“_knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth;_” and of charity
there is no perfect form except that reverential recognition of the
common fatherhood of God, and the common brotherhood of man, which we
call religion. Let this want of the devout element, therefore, stand
{189} strongly pronounced as a defect in the ethical system of
Aristotle; he is less than Socrates and Plato as a moralist,
principally because he is less in this. Omitting from his calculation
one element of that Nature which is stronger than all philosophies and
wider than all churches, he has so far failed; and the failure of such
a man in such a field should teach our modern philosophers, physical,
mechanical, and utilitarian, to beware of following his example.



CHRISTIANITY.

{190}

AN ancient Greek poet, of grave thoughts and weighty words,
describing the character and functions of one of the great primeval
divinities of his country, says that she is

 πολλῶν ὀνομάτων μορφὴ μία,
 One shape of many names,

an expression which might have been varied with equal truth, as

 One Power of many shapes,

and indicating that the motley polymorphous harlequinade, as it
appears to us, of a polytheistic Pantheism, is at bottom reducible to
a few fundamental forms; and if this be true of such a shifting
kaleidoscopic exhibition as popular mythology, it holds good much more
of popular morals. All moral philosophies are fundamentally the same,
and cannot indeed be otherwise, being only the variously emphasized
expression of the one self-existent and self-organizing Reason--the
βασιλικὸς Νοῦς of Plato--which makes either a physical or a moral
world possible. We shall not expect therefore to find absolutely new
principles in the laws which regulate human conduct any more than in
the laws of those primary vitalizing forces--Light and Heat--which
{191} shape and regulate all organism, immutably and infallibly, by
the inherent necessity of the great Being of sleepless underived
energy of whom they are the manifestation. We shall, on the contrary,
believe with an assured faith, that the principles of morals, and the
primary forces of the physical universe, are as immutable and
self-congruent in the essential nature of things, as the laws of
measure and of magnitude traced out by the mathematician; with this
advantage in favour of what has been sometimes ignorantly talked of as
contingent truth, that whereas the certainty of mathematical
propositions depends on the fact that they are founded on
self-limiting definitions of mere thoughts, with which no disturbing
condition, not even the fiat of Omnipotence, can interfere, the
certainty of physical and of moral laws flows from this, that they are
facts, subject to no man’s definition, and necessarily existing as
normal manifestations of the great primary fact, which we call GOD.
The variations therefore which undoubtedly are observed in human
morals--variations peculiarly notable in the infancy and in the
decline both of individuals and of races,--are not contradictions, but
only partial, feeble, and inadequate expressions of immutable
morality. The ebb of the tide, looked at from a local and narrow point
of view, is a contradiction to the flow; but both flow and ebb are
parts of the grand harmonious motion of the sleepless waters of
ancient Ocean. Morals vary under varying conditions of society, as
plants vary under more or less favourable conditions of growth, or
landscapes under more or less happy incidences of solar light; but
these variations, so far from contradicting each other, could not even
exist without {192} a fundamental identity; as the element of likeness
in the different members of a large family could not exist without a
common parentage. And where there may not be a striking unity of
expression, traceable through all the varieties of popular morality,
there is always at least, as Mr. Lecky has well pointed out, a unity
of tendency;[192.1] even as a plant, when it first spreads out the
green lobes of its radical leaves, may present a very different
appearance from the distinctive leafage of its perfect growth; but the
type nothing the less is one, and the necessary law of the whole
congruous growth lay in the unity of the germ. There is nothing
accidental in nature; so neither in morals. All things are necessary;
all things are self-consistent; all things are harmonious; all things
upon a whole view of the whole are complete. The distinctive character
therefore of such an ethical system as Christianity is to be sought
not in the fundamental invariable absolute types of right and wrong,
which are the same everywhere, but mainly in the following two
things--_First_, In its method of operation and in the steam power,
the strong convictions and fervid passions by which the moral
machinery is set in motion; or, to adopt another simile, in the
fountainheads from which the necessary water-courses of a systematic
social irrigation are supplied. _Secondly_, In the particular virtues
which its method of operation and its moral steam, in conjunction with
the nature of the materials acted on, brings on the stage with a
certain preference. For though a moral system may, or rather must,
include theoretically all {193} the virtues, and is justly blamed if
it exclude one, even the smallest, yet from the narrowness of finite
natures, and the laws of habit, it seems practically impossible that
as soon as any moral system becomes a traditional law for great masses
of men, there should not be manifested a strong tendency to put
certain virtues into the foreground, while others are left to find
their places without favour, or even with a certain amount of
discouragement. All soils are not equally favourable to all plants;
and the most healthy climates, where human beings of the greatest
amount of robustness and grace are produced, have never been free from
peculiar diseases, springing from a source indissolubly intertwined
with the conditions of their remarkable salubrity. Another influence
also materially tends to give even the most large and comprehensive
system of Ethics a certain apparent narrowness and one-sidedness in
practice. A world-regenerating system of Ethics, such as Christianity,
is not a thing, like a treatise on Logic, written in a book and laid
on the shelf, and allowed quietly to work its way with whosoever may
choose to take it up. It is an active, aggressive, invasive power; it
is a strong medicine to knock down a strong disease; it is a charge of
cavalry dashing onwards, like a storm, to break the solid squares of
an opposing infantry, bristling with many spears. Such a movement is
necessarily one-sided; all movement is one-sided; speculation only is
catholic. We must not therefore expect Christianity, of all moral
forces the most impetuous and the most imperious, to be free from this
fault. It had to swoop down, so to speak, on violent wings from the
spiritual side of our nature upon the sensualism of {194} the Greeks,
otherwise it could not succeed; and its most distinctive features will
be found to spring mainly from this necessary attitude of imperious
hostility. There is no time to temper blows in the moment of battle. A
great victory is never gained by moderate blows; though, when gained,
a wise general will always know how to use it with moderation.

I will now proceed to attempt a sketch of Christian Ethics from the
two points of view here indicated.

FIRST, Let us inquire what is the steam-power, the lever, the motive
force of Christian Ethics. And here at once the most distinctive part
of the Christian moral system meets us in the face; it is presented to
us prominently, essentially, radically as a religion. It is not merely
connected with religion, not only, like the moral philosophy of Dr.
Paley, willing to stamp its precepts with a religious sanction, and to
found moral obligation upon the will of the Supreme Being; much less,
like the philosophy of Socrates, ready to fraternize with religion,
and eager to prove with Heraclitus, the profoundest of the
pre-Socratic thinkers, that all human rules of conduct are derived
ultimately from the necessity of the divine nature.[194.1] It is more
than all this; it is a religion; by its mere epiphany it forms a
church; in its starting-point, its career, and its consummation it is
“a kingdom of Heaven upon earth.” In its method of presentation,
though not certainly in its contents, it is as different from its
great ally Platonism {195} as Platonism is from its great enemy, the
Homeric theology; for Platonism, however nearly allied to
Christianity, is a philosophy and not a religion; a philosophy which
did not even propose to overthrow the Polytheistic faith, whose
poet-theologer it had so rudely assaulted. The moral philosophy of the
Greeks, indeed, generally was either a simple wisdom of life in the
form of precepts loosely strung together, as in the early Gnomic
poets, or it was a wisdom of life deduced from principles of reason,
as in all the Socratic and post-Socratic teaching. But the Ethics of
the Gospel came down upon men like a flash from Heaven; suddenly,
violently, fervidly and explosively, not with a curious apparatus of
slowly penetrating arguments. There is no talk about reasons here at
all; the λόγος of St. John came afterwards and meant a very
different thing. “_Repent ye, and be baptized, for the kingdom of
Heaven is at hand!_” is the form of the Evangelical appeal, in which
no argument is attempted or indeed required. Your conscience tells you
that you are rebels against God; as rebels you can only live under a
curse; the whole sense-besotted Greek and Roman world is evidently
lying under a curse; repent and be converted; return to God and be
saved; to man there can be no safety anywhere except in God, who is
the source of all good, and in Christ, who gave himself a living
sacrifice that we might be redeemed from all evil. This is the whole
style of the greatest moral Evangel the world has ever heard;
absolutely and simply an act of religion; all immorality is departure
from God, all morality return to God. In the Christian Ethics God is
not a secondary figure; he is not brought in merely for a sanction: he
is the central sun of the {196} whole system, from whose bright
fountain of perennial excellence all the little twinkling lamps of our
minor moralities are lighted up. The individual virtues of a Christian
man are merely the flower and the fruit of a living plant, of which
the root is theology and the sap piety; nay more, the piety
accompanies the flower and the fruit, and imparts to them a fragrance
and a flavour, which gives them more than half their charm. A rose
without smell would still be a rose; but what a world of difference to
the sense and to the sentiment would the absence of that fine
invisible essence imply! Christian virtue, in fact, can no more exist
without piety than Socratic virtue can exist without logic. Socrates
was, no doubt, a remarkably pious man; but, while the piety of
Socrates was a strong shoot from his reason, the virtue of a Christian
is the fair issue of his piety.

The distinct proof of what we have here stated will be found
everywhere in the New Testament, but in the Acts of the Apostles
specially rather than in the Gospels. For the ideal of Christian
character we refer naturally to the Sermon on the Mount and to the
character of our Lord as exhibited in the evangelic narrative; but for
the manner in which Christianity was presented to men, for the method
of operation by which in so short a time it so wonderfully overcame
the stern ritualism of the Jew and the fair sensualism of the Greek,
we must look to the actual facts of the great early conversions as
they are presented to us in the apostolic memoirs of Luke. Let us see
therefore, in the first place, what we can learn from the early
chapters of that most interesting narrative. Now, the starting-point
here plainly is the effusion of the Holy Ghost, an influence which,
{197} whether we take it on this first occasion as miraculous,
according to the traditional understanding of the Church, or as
something extraordinary but in the course of nature, is a phenomenon
altogether different in kind from the action of arguments upon the
ratiocinative faculty of the mind, and had indeed been preceded not by
inductions or deductions, or analytic dissections, or any scholastic
exercitations at all, but by meetings for social prayer (i.
14)--prayer which is the great feeder of the moral nature of man when
reverting to the original source of all moral life in the form of
religion. It was therefore not in the philosophic way of debate and
discussion, but in the religious way of inspiration that the
regenerative afflatus of the first Christian Ethics came upon the
Jewish and Hellenic world; and it worked, let us say, by a fervid
moral contagion, not by the suasion of cool argument. And there can be
no doubt, that if even in the intellectual world a wise ancient might
justly say, _Nemo vir magnus sine aliquo afflatu divino unquam fuit_,
much more in the world of moral and political action it is by the
infection of noble passions that men are moved to any grand issues,
not by the cogency of strong arguments. Melanchthon was as good a
reasoner as Martin Luther, perhaps a better, but he had not the
volcanic fire of his fellow; and it was an eruption of this fire only
that could prevail to shake the stout pillars of the Popedom. And it
was by an influence manifestly quite akin to the impetuous energetic
eloquence of the great Saxon reformer, that by the first sermon of the
Apostle Peter, as we read, great masses of men were suddenly pricked
in their hearts, conscience-stung as we phrase it, and in one day
three thousand {198} human beings, previously indifferent or hostile,
were added to the new moral community afterwards called the Christian
Church. Precisely similar in modern times has been the action of the
so-called religious revivals, which, from the days of the Methodists
downwards, have done so much in this country to rouse from a state of
moral lethargy the most neglected and the most abandoned portions of
the community. Of Martin Boos, the celebrated Bavarian evangelist, we
are told that his “sermon was as if he poured forth flame;”[198.1]
and not less striking were the moral effects of the eloquent
Whitefield when he drew the tears in white gutters down the grimy
cheeks of the congregated Bristol colliers, and, what is even more
significant of his power, in Savannah elicited from the prudential
pockets of sage Benjamin Franklin, sitting before the preacher with a
stiff determination not to contribute, first a handful of coppers,
then three or four silver dollars, and then five golden
pistoles![198.2] Preachings of this kind have been the subject of
scoffing with light-witted persons in all ages; but they stand firm as
grave attestations of the fact that the Christian method of
conversion, not by logical arguments, but by moral contagion and the
effusion of the Holy Ghost, has, with the masses of mankind, always
proved itself the most effective. Socrates did much more perhaps as a
reformer of sinners than any preacher in the guise of a philosopher
ever did; but he could not have done what Whitefield did with the
colliers. The arguments of Socrates convinced the few; but the fervour
of Peter, the loftiness of his religious position, and {199} the felt
firmness of his historical foundation converted the many.

And this brings us to the second important point in the original
attitude of Christianity, and the manner in which it moved the moral
world. This point is the historical foundation on which the moral
appeal stood; and this historical foundation was the miraculous life,
death, and resurrection of the Founder of the ethical religion. It
concerns us not to inquire here, whether Christ was a real person, or,
as certain Germans with their ingenious whimsicality will have it, a
mere myth; as little need we ask whether the miracles were really
suspensions of the laws of nature, or were mere acts of remarkable
power somewhat exaggerated by the wondering narrators; much less can
it be necessary for the present argument to weigh the evidence for the
great crowning miracle of the resurrection. Concerning these matters,
every man must either judge for himself or take the authority of
nearly two thousand years of effective Christian teaching as a
sufficient guarantee. But what we have to do with here is simply this:
that these facts were believed, that the Apostles stood upon these
facts, and that the ethical efficiency of Christianity was rooted in
these facts. Take the facts away, or the assured belief in the facts,
and the existence of such an ethico-religious society as the Christian
Church becomes, under the circumstances, impossible. Consider what an
effect the personality of Socrates had in establishing what we with no
great license of language may call the Socratic Church in Athens. The
various schools of philosophy, first in Athens and then in Rome, were
sects of that Church. Had Socrates not lived and died {200} with
visible power and effect before men, the existence of these schools,
fathered by this great teacher, would have been impossible. A person
is the necessary nucleus round which all social organisms form
themselves. But the personality of Socrates was a much less important
element in the formation of the Socratic schools than that of Christ
was in the formation of the Christian Church. Socrates was only a
teacher--one who, like other teachers, might in time create disciples
as wise, perhaps wiser than, himself; Christ was a redeemer, whose
function as such could be performed by no vicar, and transmitted to no
successor: the one was a help and a guide, the other a foundation of
faith and a fountain of life. Socrates taught his disciples to become
independent of him, and rely on their own perfected reason; from
Christ His disciples always derive nourishment, as the branches from
the vine. And if the relation of Christ to His disciples, conceived
only as a living Saviour walking on the earth, was so much closer than
that of Socrates to his disciples, how much more intimate does the
relation become, when He who lived and died to redeem humanity from
sin rose from the dead as a living guarantee that all who walked in
His ways, should follow up their redemption from sin by a speedy
victory over that yet stronger enemy. Death![200.1] From the moment
that the resurrection stood amongst the disciples as an accepted fact,
the Founder of the religion was not merely a wonder-working man, a
prophet and the greatest of all the prophets, but He was an altogether
exceptional and miraculous Person, either {201} God in some mysterious
way combined into an incorporate unity with man, or at least a Person
that, compared with the common type and expression of humanity, might
pass for God. The influence which the belief in the actual existence
of such a human, and yet in so many regards superhuman, character as
the Founder of their faith, must have exercised on the early preachers
of the gospel, cannot easily be over-estimated. Plato and Plotinus
often talk of the raptures with which the human soul would be thrilled
if not only, as now, the shadows and types of the Beautiful, but the
very absolute Beautiful itself, the αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν, stood
revealed to mortal sight. But granting for the moment that the
manifestation of such a vague abstraction is possible, it is quite
certain that, when manifested, it could not possibly act upon men with
anything like the power of a human Christ actually risen from the
dead. Man, with all his range of imagination, is at bottom as much
concrete as any creature, and as little capable of being moved by mere
abstractions. Jesus Christ, and Him crucified; Christ risen from the
dead; believe in Him--this was the short summation of that preaching
of the gospel which regenerated the then world, lying as it did in all
sorts of wickedness. See how emphatically the resurrection is alluded
to as the main anchor in all the early preachings of the Apostles
(Acts ii. 32; iii. 15; iv. 2; v. 30, etc.) And as to St. Paul, he
declares again and again that if Christ be not risen, the faith of
Christians is vain, and those to whom the world was indebted for its
moral regeneration were justly to be accounted amongst the most
miserable of men; a method of speaking which plainly implies that, in
the Apostle’s {202} estimation, the firm fact of a risen Saviour was
the only real assurance that Christians had of a life beyond the
grave. So true is the utterance of a distinguished modern divine that
“the resurrection was the central point of the apostolic teaching,
nay more, the central point of history, primarily of religious
history, of which it is the soul. The resurrection is the one central
link between the seen and the unseen.”[202.1] Let this, therefore,
stand firm as the main principle of any just exposition of the
machinery by which the ethics of the gospel achieved the conquest of
the world. The Church--“the peculiar people zealous for good
works,” of whom St. Peter speaks--was formed out of the world not by
the clear cogency of logical arguments, but by the vivid belief in
miraculous facts.

But the miraculous personality of the teacher, however essential to
the proclamation and reception of the teaching, was not the teaching
itself. There were doctrines of an essentially theological character,
and strong emotions that only religion could excite, which operated
along with the unique personality of the Founder in laying a firm
foundation for the ethics of the gospel. The most important of these
doctrines was the doctrine of the unity of the Godhead. This is a
matter with which in Christian countries we are now so familiar that
not a few find it difficult to realize how prominent an element it was
in the Christian creed, and how powerful must have been its action in
the creation of a new school of morals in the midst of the heathen
world. By the Fathers of the Church, however, in the first and second
centuries, the ethical virtue of this element {203} was never
overlooked; they knew only too well, from their own personal
experience most of them, and all of them by what they saw written in
the habits and maxims of a corrupt society, how easily Polytheism had
lent itself to draw a beautiful veil over what was ugly, and to stamp
the most debasing vices with consecration. Philosophers, like
Xenophanes and Plato, in whose breasts these things had long ago
roused a rebellious indignation, might well despair of converting to a
pure morality a people who, though they might be sober on all the
other days of the year, would think it necessary, as an act of piety,
to appear publicly intoxicated on the feast of Dionysus. The salt of
goodness, it is quite true, which kept the body of Polytheism so long
from rotting, has often been overlooked, principally by the
exaggeration of Christian writers, seldom remarkable for candour; and
the early Fathers of the Church, engaged, as they were, in actual
warfare with the many-headed foe, may well be excused if their zeal
was not always accompanied by that fairness to which even error is
entitled. But with the most honest purpose to do justice to the moral
element of Polytheism, as we may find it exhibited most favourably
perhaps in the living pictures of the Homeric poems, it cannot be
denied that the obvious deduction from the Polytheistic creed was, in
all cases to palliate, in some cases even to justify, vice; and that
this deduction was often made we may gather from the familiar fact
that the most illogical people even now suddenly become very acute
reasoners, the moment it is necessary to defend their prejudices, or
to protest against the amendment of their faults. In a system of
faith, where every {204} instinct had its god, and every passion its
patron-saint, it required either a rare training, or a remarkably
healthy habit of mind to keep the low and the high in their just seats
of subordination and supremacy. No doubt the more imperative moral
virtues to a well-constituted Heathen mind were conceived as
represented by Jove, who was the real moral governor of the world; and
the supremacy of Zeus in Olympus was a sufficient assertion of the
superiority which belongs to the moral law in the little republic of
the soul: but as the son of Kronos in the Greek heaven was only a
limited monarch, and often, as the Iliad plainly indicates, obliged to
wink at the contravention of his own commands by the unruly
aristocracy of the skies, so Polytheism could never invest the τὸ
ἡγεμονικόν--the regulating principle of the soul--with the
absolute sovereignty which to its nature rightfully belongs.
Christianity, as an essentially monotheistic faith, applied a perfect
remedy to this evil. The highest part of man’s nature was now the
only sacred part. The flesh, so far from being glorified and
worshipped, was denounced, degraded, and desecrated as a synonym for
all corruption. The deification of mere sensuous pleasures, which with
Polytheists had passed for orthodox, was now impossible; the moral law
became supreme; and surely the sanction which this law requires can
never be conceived in more imperative terms than as the distinctly
enunciated command of the all-powerful, all-wise, and all-beneficent
Father of the human family. No sanction, deduced from a mere reasoning
process, can ever approach this in broad practical efficiency. It is
the impersonated, incarnated, and enthroned Reason, to which all {205}
reasonable creatures owe an instinctive and a necessary obedience.

But there is another corollary to a monotheistic creed, which, in
estimating the influence of Christian faith on Christian Ethics, is by
no means to be overlooked. If there is only one God, the father of the
whole human race, then there is only one family; all men are brethren;
nationality ceases; philanthropy, or love of men in the widest sense
of the word, becomes natural; mere patriotism has now only a relative
value; Leonidas is no longer the model hero; the Jew is no longer of
the one chosen people; and the Greek, full of wisdom, and full of
conceit, must condescend to call the ignorant barbarian his brother.
This breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jew and
Gentile, between every nation and its neighbour, removed two of the
greatest obstructions which have ever stood in the way of a generous
morality, in the shape of what Lord Bacon would have called idols of
the place and of the race; these idols could be worshipped no longer;
and no shibboleth of separation could be mumbled to consecrate the
unreasonable prejudices which every nation is so apt to entertain
against its neighbour. No doubt towards the propagation of these
catholic and cosmopolitan principles, ancient philosophy also, and
specially Stoicism, contributed its share;[205.1] the consolidation of
the Roman empire and the policy of the Roman emperors worked in the
same direction; {206} but the monotheistic creed of the Christian
Church, proclaimed with such dignity and moral courage by St. Paul in
his discourse on the Hill of Mars, supplied the only effective
leverage. Compared with what the preaching of St. Paul did for the
grand idea, of humanity and fraternity, all that modern science,
modern political theories, modern commerce, and modern philosophies
have achieved or may yet achieve, can only be counted as a very small
supplement.

The immortality of the soul, the second coming of Christ, and the
final judgment of the world, form together a group of doctrines, the
relation of which to moral practice is too deeply felt to require much
discussion in this place. Perhaps, however, everybody does not
sufficiently consider how peculiarly Christian these doctrines are,
and how the belief in them, and the moral issues of such belief, must
necessarily stand and fall with the faith in some such historical
religion as has hitherto formed the framework of the Churches of
Christendom. For however these doctrines might be dimly conceived and
vaguely believed by the people who wrote D. M. upon their tombstones,
and however solemnly imagined and grandly depicted they were in the
eloquent discourses of the great philosopher of Idealism, there are
few mistakes greater than to accept these dim conceptions and grand
imaginings as a proof that the doctrine of the immortality of the
soul, as a point of Polytheistic faith, performed the same function in
moulding the morality of the ancient Greeks and Romans that it does at
the present day among modern Christian peoples. A single
quotation--one of the most trite--from Homer {207} will suffice to
show how utterly unfounded such an idea is. In the Cimmerian visit to
the unseen world, the wandering king of Ithaca is made to encounter
the hot thane of Thessaly, pacing with a stately fierceness through
the Elysian fields, like a king among the shades. On being
complimented to this effect by his visitor, the son of Peleus
replies--

 “Name me not death with praiseful words, noble Ulysses; I
 Would sooner be a bonded serf, the labourer’s tool to ply
 To a small cottar on the heath with wealth exceeding small,
 Than be the Lord of all the Shades in Pluto’s gloomy hall.”

A people who could think and speak thus of the state of souls after
departure from the body, could not derive much practical advantage
from belief in immortality. That belief indeed was held so loosely by
the mass of the Greek people that it may rather be described as a dim
imagination than as a definite conviction. People were rather
unwilling to believe that their beloved human friends had vanished
into the realm of nothingness, than convinced that they had gone to
where on any account it would be at all desirable to go. To a few
select heroes no doubt, men like Menelaus, of divine extraction, and
divine affinity, a really enviable abode after death in the cloudless
and stormless islands of the blest was by popular tradition assigned;
a few perpetrators also of enormous crimes, red-hand murderers, open
blasphemers, and traitors who sold their country for gold were
consigned for ever to the ensanguined scourge of the Furies in those
flaring regions which the genius of Virgil and Dante has so vividly
portrayed; but if the belief in these exceptional cases inspired some
to acts of unwonted heroism and {208} deterred others from deeds of
abhorred foulness, the very good and the very bad in the world are too
few in number to admit of the idea that the motives which either stir
them to acts of exceptive virtue or deter them from acts of abnormal
crime should have any influence in determining the conduct of the
great masses. And as for the philosophers, it was Socrates only and
Plato who in their teaching gave any special emphasis to the doctrine
of the immortality of the soul; and no man who has read the most
familiar accounts of the defence which the former delivered to the
jury at his trial, or of his last moments as reported by Plato in the
_Phædo_, can have carried off the impression that the great father of
moral philosophy taught that doctrine with any dogmatic decision or
certainty. We must say therefore, with Dr. Paley, who, though
incapable of sounding great depths, had a very clear head, and was a
very sensible man, that it was the gospel, and the gospel alone, which
“brought life and immortality to light,” and with it introduced
whatever real power in elevating or strengthening the moral nature of
man such a doctrine, when held as a habitual conviction, must exercise
over the masses of men. What Socrates contemplated calmly as a
probable contingency, St Paul and the early Christians gloried in as a
grand culmination and a triumphant result. And the effective influence
of this firm faith on society has been to give an infinitely greater
dignity to human life, to increase infinitely the moral worth of the
individual, and to add a support of wonderful efficacy to those states
and stages of toilsome existence which stand so much in need of such
hopeful consolation. That it has always acted, and {209} must always
act, as a strong aid to virtuous conduct can scarcely be denied,
though they of course are poor philosophers and ignoble men who think
that virtue could not possibly exist in the world without the belief
in immortality. There are many motives that force the masses of men to
be virtuous, according to the respectable righteousness of the Scribes
and Pharisees, altogether independent of any prospect of rewards and
punishments in a future state; and as for men of a more than commonly
delicate moral sensibility--persons to whom a life in baseness and
foulness would under any conditions be intolerable--it is not to be
imagined that they would be more virtuous from the prospect of an
eternity of bliss, than they are from the fear of a short season of
shame. These men will always live nobly, for the same reason that
whatever they do they must do well. If they play cricket, they will
play a good game; if they ride, they will ride well; and if they boat,
they will boat well; and, for the same reason, if they live, they will
live well--not because they expect a reward, but because they have no
pleasure in living badly. To them vice is always rottenness,
putrescence, and loathsomeness; and no man will consciously condemn
himself to these who knows what soundness means.

There is one marked peculiarity about Christian Ethics, growing
directly out of a religious root, and closely connected with certain
theological doctrines, which, though indicated in some of the previous
paragraphs, demands special mention here. We mean what Dr. Chalmers
called its aggressive attitude. The idea of Duty is not necessarily
aggressive; a man may perform his duty quietly, as the spheres {210}
move in their orbits, without daring, or even desiring, to meddle with
the movements of other members of the great social machine. Even
Christian Churches in quiet and flat times, as the last century for
instance, have been known to content themselves with the unobtrusive
performance of a certain round of familiar pieties, undisturbed by any
desire to make moral inroads into the domain of remote or even
adjacent heathenism. But this is certainly not the normal or
flourishing state of any Christian Church; not the natural state
indeed of any sect or society, whether religious or philosophical,
professing to possess a healing medicine for the cure of diseased
souls. We accordingly found in the first discourse that Socrates was
in his attitude, however pleasant and playful on the surface, at
bottom very earnestly aggressive; it was this aggressiveness, in fact,
that raised up against him the hostility of those spiteful little
individuals to whom more than to popular ill-will he owed his
martyr-death. He asserted, as we have seen, a divine mission, and
acted as a missionary, though always in the manner of a reasoner
rather than as a preacher. But the aggressive element in early
Christianity was much stronger than in Socrates; as any one may see at
a glance by comparing the biographical career of St. Paul with that of
the Athenian philosopher. And the causes of this were more than one.
In the first place, the whole Hebrew nature was more fervid, more
impassioned, more prophetic than the Hellenic; and again, the
autocratic character which belongs to all monotheism, imparted to the
moral message of the missionaries an urgency and a lofty intolerance,
which in an atmosphere compounded of polytheism in its lower {211}
sphere and of logic in its upper sphere was impossible. A divine
command superadded to fervid human sympathies necessarily creates a
mission in the person who is the subject of them; but the divine
command is much more stringent from an autocratic Jehovah than from a
limited monarch like Jove, and the fervour of human sympathy is more
intense in proportion as the offence of the rebels against the
sovereign authority is looked upon as more heinous. We are brought
back therefore again to the great doctrine of the Divine Unity, if we
would make it fully evident to ourselves why St. Paul was so much more
aggressive than Socrates: Socrates was only partly a missionary, and
the messenger of a god whose authority was limited by an inferior but
acknowledged authority in other gods; St. Paul was a missionary of the
one true God, to whose authority there could be no limit, and to whose
command there could be no contradiction. From this principle of divine
autocracy there necessarily grew up the conception of sin, not as
folly merely and imperfection, but as contumacy, rebellion, and
treason; and the conviction of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the
exceeding misery of the sinner became the strongest spur to the
missionary activity of the Christian preachers, and gave a true moral
sublimity to an aggressive attitude, which in a mere reasoner had
appeared impertinent. Nothing indeed is more remarkable than the
contrast between the strong colours in which sin is painted by the
writers of the New Testament and its more venial aspect in the mild
regard of the philosopher. Aristotle can surrender a whole generation
of young men to the dominion of πάθος and think nothing more
about it. {212} They are as incapable of moral ideas, these young
sensualists, as swine are of cleanliness; let them wallow in the mire
for a season; we shall speak to them, when they have outgrown their
animalism. But the converted Pharisee who wrote his burning epistles
to the young Christian churches in magnificent Rome and luxurious
Ephesus used very different language. Sin with him is a very serious
offence, on account of which the curse of God lies on the whole world.
Sinners, whether old or young, are by nature the children of wrath;
and by the act and fact of the transgression of divine law, so utterly
cast down and degraded from the proper human dignity, that they
require to be born again, and baptized with a fire-baptism before they
can be purified from their foulness and restored to the original
rights and privileges which belonged to them, as to all men, in right
of their divine fatherhood. Hence the strongly accentuated opposition
between flesh and spirit (Romans vii. viii.; 1 Pet. iv. 3, 4) which no
doubt Aristotle, as we have seen above, also mentions; but in the
Stagirite it is only an incidental recognition; in the New Testament
it is a pervading and overwhelming power, a force which possesses the
atmosphere, a moral storm, which, swooping violently down from the
dark-throned seat of the Supreme Regent, tears the cloak of
self-righteousness from the shivering sinner, and exposes him in all
his bareness. Plato also and Plotinus use very Christian language when
they tell us that to be partakers of true moral beauty the soul
requires a κάθαρσις or purification from its natural or
acquired foulness, and that the necessity of this purification was
symbolically indicated in the {213} mysteries.[213.1] Very true; but
here again Plato wrote calmly for the few, Paul preached fervidly for
the many. And this word _purification_, as connected with the
Christian idea of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the necessity
of an ingrafting of a higher moral life by the operation of the Divine
Spirit, leads me necessarily to specialize the doctrine of the
Atonement as performing a peculiar function in the ethical attitude
and moral efficiency of the gospel. The doctrine of the Atonement
arises as the necessary consequence of the Christian conception of sin
as a polluting, perverting, rebellious, and treasonable principle. An
error is reasoned away, but filth must be washed away; guilt must be
atoned; the offender must pray for forgiveness; and the free grace of
the Sovereign must restore the traitor to the place and the protection
which belong to him as a loyal subject. Put into a strictly articulate
form, this doctrine of atonement, not less than its correlative the
exceeding sinfulness of sin, especially when pushed to its extreme of
logical consistency by the so-called federal theologians, is apt to
give, and has always given, more or less just cause of offence to
speculative minds; but in that broad practical aspect in which it was
originally presented to the world, before men began to turn a fervid
faith into a curious theology, there can be no doubt that it operated
most beneficially in intensifying that hatred of sin which is the
mother of all {214} holiness, and in enabling many a guilt-laden soul
to start on the career of a regenerate life with a comfortable
lightness and an unfettered speed, which from no other source could
have flowed so readily.

The plan of this discourse leads us in the next place to consider the
individual virtues to which, by their radical connexion with religion
and a theological creed, Christian Ethics have shown a preference. But
before attempting this it is obvious to remark how, by the atmosphere
of piety in which they grow, and the theological soil in which they
are rooted, the Christian virtues, as a whole and individually, are
elevated to a much higher platform than belongs to any system of mere
moral philosophy; and from this point of view we can understand how
the divines of the school called Evangelical have been led to look
down with such contempt as they generally do on every form of
Christian preaching in which a round of mere moral duties is held up
as in itself capable of performing the functions of a truly Christian
life. The Evangelicals, narrow and bigoted as they too often are,
especially in points of artificial and traditional orthodoxy, which
they are unable to separate from the essence of the gospel, were quite
right in this matter. It is not the mere duties performed, but the
motives from which, and the inspiration by which, they are performed,
that make the moral life of a truly Christian man so excellent. It is
not merely that he is morally correct in all his intercourse with his
fellow-men; not merely that he is richly furnished perhaps with all
those born amiabilities which an acute Scotch speculator has
designated as but the painted masks of virtue;[214.1] {215} the world
may shower its plaudits on such cheap forms of native goodness as
loudly as it pleases; Christian morality, by virtue of its lofty
religious inspiration, aims at something more; the mere righteousness
of the Scribes and Pharisees it looks upon as an attainment utterly
unworthy of a high moral ambition, as a vulgar something, the
contentment with which would indicate an entire absence of that pure
moral ideal, with the acknowledgment of which a religious morality--a
system of ethics founded on the worship of the one true God--must
necessarily start. Whatever morality the world may possess, as
absolutely indispensable for the common movements of the social
machine, Christianity, of course, accepts, but makes no account of in
its characteristic appeals. It is rather the low maxims, the false
authorities, and the spurious virtues, mixed up with the vulgar
morality of the many, that it most mercilessly exposes and protests
against. “_Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed in
the renewing of your minds_.” “_But you are an elect people, a
royal priesthood, a holy nation_.” Such is the lofty tone which it
assumes, and from the days of St. Paul to Xavier and Howard has
justified the assumption amply by its deeds. It aspires not merely to
be moral; it would be the poetry of morality in a world where prose is
the common currency. It intends to hold up to the whole human family a
divine ideal of social heroism, which may some day be universally
admired but which never can be universally enacted.

Let us now look at the beautiful portraiture of the Christian man in
the detail of his most characteristic virtues.

And first, as the starting-point here, we must {216} observe that the
Christian is pre-eminently equipped with that self-denial and
self-control, and what we generally call strength of character, which
are the necessary postulates of all moral excellence. A man who will
take the world easily will never take it grandly; χαλεπὰ τὰ
καλά· _omnia præclara tam difficilia quam rara sunt:_ all
excellent things are difficult; the Christian recognises the
difficulty, but delights in it as the stout old Roman did in the foes
which added fuel to his victories, or as the strong modern engineer
does in mountains, that he may show the triumph of his art in boring
through them or winding round them. Modern sensualists and preachers
of the low doctrine that pleasure is the only good have delighted to
fling discredit on this grand Christian virtue of self-denial, as if
anything great ever was performed without it. The man of genius denies
himself in a thousand ways that he may work out a perfect body for the
imaginary ideals which possess him; the great soldier denies himself
through leagues of hardship that he may repel the rude invader and
preserve the honour of his country unstained; and the man of virtue
must deny himself also, if virtue is a thing which a creature of high
enterprise and lofty purpose may reasonably have to do with. To lie in
the lap of pleasure may be the highest enjoyment of which a feeble
character is capable; the alternation betwixt sensuous languor and
sensuous excitement may be the only grateful change of which a
predominantly sensuous nature can be made to partake; but a strong man
must have something difficult to do; and the strong Christian man has
to “work out his salvation with fear and trembling;” to mortify
the body, lest being overindulged {217} it should learn to be the
master instead of the servant of the soul; and “laying aside every
weighty and the sin which more easily besets him,” learn to “run
with patience the race which is set before him.” What race? The race
of realizing as much goodness as possible in his own personal life
lend in the life of that society of which he is a part, by the twofold
process of nursing virtues and weeding out vices: an ideal which never
can be reached by those who commence life, after the Epicurean
fashion, with a low calculation of pleasures and pains, but by those
only who we inspired by the vision of what Plato preached as divine
ideas, and Paul as divine commands. The recognition of a divine ideal
in some shape or other is the first step to the prosecution of a
divine life; and this alone can supply the inspiration which makes
difficulty easy, educes pleasure from pain, and converts the most
severe acts of self-denial into the materials of an elevating warfare,
and the occasion of a glorious triumph.

Very closely connected with the stern self-denial and the manly
strength of character so conspicuous in the first Christians was their
moral courage. It requires very little knowledge of the world and
experience of life to be made aware, in the case of those who are
capable of being made aware of these things, that the general habitude
of the world is not moral courage, but moral cowardice. The majority
of men, like the majority of dogs I presume, are not physical cowards;
the dog is naturally a fighting animal, and so is man. But that the
majority of men are moral cowards is certain. No consideration is so
powerful with schoolboys as that of being laughed at for any
singularity in dress or appearance; the slavery of {218} fashion among
grown-up persons is founded partly on the same dread; and the fear of
standing in a minority restrains many a man in public life from giving
voice to a salutary truth, and planting a gag on the barking mouth of
popular error. I have myself been present at meetings of corporate
bodies, where I gave my suffrage, confident that I was right in acting
consistently on a plain principle of common honesty; and after the
vote was taken I was told confidentially by some of those who had
voted against my views, that they had a strong conviction I was in the
right, only they could not venture to vote with me in the face of such
an overwhelming majority! This is the moral courage of the world.
‘Have any of the Scribes and Pharisees believed in him? If so, we
will speak out; if not, we keep silence.’ This tendency to follow
authority is in many persons, no doubt, the necessary consequence of
their own ignorance; ignorance is always afraid, and it knows by a
sure instinct that its only safety lies in being led by superior
knowledge. This no one can blame. But when a man acts against his own
conviction in giving his vote as a member of a corporate body, or in a
political assembly, to shield himself from the indignation or to gain
the favour of an unreasonable multitude,--when, as in pure democracy,
the question of right and wrong never comes before a man at all, but
the one rule of political life simply is to submit to what such and
such a local majority may choose to dictate,--this is sheer cowardice
and simple slavery, from which a man of honourable and independent
mind, not tainted with the baseness of democratic life, must shrink
with abhorrence. And so in fact we do find that in democratic
countries, where all {219} things are controlled by political cliques,
who dictate the local policy, to which the puppet called a Member of
Parliament, or a Deputy, is expected to swear, men of independent
spirit, manly courage, and large intelligence are found systematically
to shrink from the arena. How different from this demoralizing miasma
is the atmosphere which we breathe in the New Testament! There a
single manly individual stands forward, and in the name of God
solemnly calls upon men to renounce the dearly-cherished errors, and
to trample under foot the warmly-worshipped idols of a whole people.
“_If it be lawful in the sight of God to hearken unto men rather
than unto God, judge ye!_” This is what Peter said, speaking the
truth boldly, in the face of roaring multitudes, frowning dignitaries,
and lines of bristling lances. A religion in which such rare manhood
was as common as cowardice is common in general society, if it was not
crushed in the bud, as Protestantism was in Bohemia, could not but
grow up to a mighty tree in the end. The stoical death of the
gladiators in the Colosseum was wont to draw admiration, and sometimes
even to extort pity, from the spectators; but their death was
compulsory, and the stoicism of their last moments only a theatrical
grace to fall decently before an applauding multitude. The Christian,
on the other hand, whether as a fearless preacher or as an unflinching
martyr, made a voluntary protest, and chose a self-imposed torture. If
he was not a fool or a madman, he was a hero; and the heroism he
displayed was of such a high order, that being repeated only for a
generation or two, it caused the combined force of popular prejudice
and traditional authority in the heathen world to blush itself into a
{220} not unwilling subjection. So much of lofty courage and of
genuine manhood did subtle Greece and powerful Rome learn from the
moral missionaries of poor and despised Palestine!

Let us now cast a glance on that most characteristic and most widely
bruited of all the Christian virtues, viz., LOVE; which under the
name of Charity (not Ἔρως, the old satellite of Venus, but
ἀγάπη), St. Paul in a famous chapter eulogizes as at once the
crown and the epitome of all virtues most peculiarly Christian. We
read also that “Love is the fulfilling of the law;” and a
watchword so deliberately chosen and so emphatically sounded must
always be pregnant with significance as to the moral character and
efficiency of the religion to which it belongs. Now the plain
significance which this blazon bears on the face of it is this, that
if Love be the blossom of all virtue, the root of all vice is the
opposite of Love, viz., Selfishness. And whosoever has looked into the
moral world with any faculty of generalizing, will not fail to have
observed that every form of vice is only a diverse manifestation of
that untempered, voracious, and altogether monstrous egotism, which,
in order to purchase for itself a slight advantage or a momentary
titillation, would not scruple to plunge a whole universe into
disorder and ruin; while, on the other hand, the virtuous man lives as
much by sympathy with the desires of others as by the gratification of
his own, and is ready at any moment to dash the bowl of blessedness
from his lips, if he must purchase it by the consignment to misery of
a singly human soul. And if we look at the lower organism of society,
we shall find, that as in the republic of science knowledge prospers
exactly in proportion as {221} the pure love of truth prevails, so in
communities of human beings, the measure of the amount of that
brotherly love which man feels to man, taken in its intensity and in
its diffusion, furnishes an exact test of the amount of moral
excellence and consequent happiness--as distinguished from mere
material prosperity--which is found in any place. The greatest
difficulties, indeed, which society has to encounter, spring
fundamentally from a deficiency of brotherly love,--from every grade
of carelessness, indifference, and coldness, down to niggardliness,
shabbiness, and the wretched mania of hoarding jealously what he who
hoards is afraid to use. Poor-laws, for instance, which are generally
looked upon as a necessary evil, exist only because those social
associations to which the administration of charity naturally belongs,
viz., in a Christian country the Christian churches, are not powerful
or zealous enough adequately to do their duty in relieving human
misery; that is to say, because Love, which is professedly the soul of
those associations, is either not intense enough where it exists, or
not sufficiently diffused, to provide the necessary aid; and thus
people are driven to supply the want of voluntary love in the
community by the exaction of compulsory rates, which may, indeed, save
a few individuals from starvation, but which certainly produce the
double evil of weakening the healthy habit of self-support through all
classes of the community, and of stopping the fountain-heads of that
natural flow of brotherly aid, which is a virtue only so long as it is
voluntary. Now to this selfishness, which may without exaggeration be
termed the endemic taint of all human associations, Christianity has
applied the antidote of Love, in the {222} triple form of love to
Christ, love to the brethren, and love to the human race;--love to
Christ as the incarnate type of unselfish benevolence and noble
self-sacrifice; love to the brethren as fellow-soldiers in the same
glorious human campaign; love to all men, as sheep of one common fold,
which the further they have strayed the more diligently they are to be
sought for. How much more intensely and extensively than in any other
association this Love has operated in the Christian churches, from the
days of Dorcas and her weeping widows down to Florence Nightingale and
her Crimean campaign, need not be told; nine-tenths of the most active
benevolence of the day in this country are Christian in their origin
and in their character; and even those persons the favourite
watchwords of whose social ethics are borrowed not from Christ but
from Epicurus, will be found to have added a strange grace to the
philosophy which they profess by a light borrowed from the religion
which they disown. And if we inquire what are the causes of this
superior prominence given to active benevolence in the Christian
scheme of ethics, we shall find, as in other instances, that the
peculiar character of the ethical fruit depends on the root of
religion by which the plant is nourished, and the theological soil in
which it was planted. For surely it requires very little thought to
perceive that the root of all that surpassing love of the human
brotherhood lies in the well-known opening words of the most catholic
of prayers--“_Our_ FATHER _which art in Heaven;_” the aspect
also of sin as a contumacy and a rebellion, and a guilt drawing down a
curse, necessarily led to a more aggressive philanthropy, with the
view {223} of achieving deliverance from that curse; but, above all,
the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the terrible
consequences necessarily involved in the idea of an eternal banishment
from the sunshine of the Divine presence, has created an amount of
social benevolence and missionary zeal which under any less potent
stimulus would have been impossible. The miseries of the more
neglected and outcast part of humanity present an entirely different
aspect to the calm Epicurean and to the zealous Christian. To the
Christian the soul of the meanest savage and of the most degraded
criminal is still an immortal soul. As when a conflagration bursts out
in a high turret, where a little child is sleeping within the near
enswathment of the flames, some adventurous fireman boldly climbs the
ladder, and rushing through the suffocating smoke, snatches the little
innocent from the embrace of destruction; so the Christian apostle
flings himself into the eager host of idolatrous worshippers, and
rejoices with exceeding joy when he saves if it were but one poor soul
from the jaws of the destroying Siva to whom he was sold. But, as
men’s actions are the offspring of their convictions, the Epicurean
will find no spur strong enough to shake him out of his easy-chair at
such a spectacle of human degradation. Let the poor sinner be
worshipping Siva on the banks of the Ganges, or committing slow
suicide by what, in the language of the Celtic islands, is strangely
called the water of life,[223.1] your easy sensuous philosopher needs
not vex himself about the matter. _Poor idiot! poor sot! poor devil!
with his little feeble flame of smoky light which he calls life, let
him flicker on another moment, or let him be_ {224} _snuffed out, it
matters not; another bubble has burst on the surface of the waters,
and the mighty ocean of cosmic vitality flows on as full and as free
and as fathomless as before!_

In the estimation of Christian love one of the most interesting points
is its strongly pronounced contrast with what has been called Platonic
love. As for that which is commonly called love in novels and in life,
though capable of affording a very exquisite bliss in its little
season, it is a matter with which mere puberty and the bloom of
physical life has so much to do, that except in the way of regulation
(which is anything but an easy matter), it does not come under the
category of morals at all; only this general remark may be made with
regard to it, that in all well-conditioned human beings it springs
originally from a certain affinity of souls shining through the body,
as much as from the mere attractions of physical beauty; and in so far
as this is the case, the purely physical instinct is elevated into the
sphere of genuine Platonic love. Now, what is Platonic love? As
described by the great philosopher of Idealism in the _Phædrus_, its
root lies plainly in the rapturous admiration of excellence, and its
consummation in the metamorphosis of the admirer into the perfect
likeness of that which he admires; whereas Christian love, most
characteristically so called, has its root in an infinite depth of
divine tenderness, and for its fruit broad streams of human pity and
grand deeds of human kindness. Platonic love is more contemplative and
artistic; Christian love more practical and more fruitful; the one is
the luxury of an intellectual imagination, the other the appetite of a
moral enthusiasm.

{225}

It would be doing injustice to Christian love, however, to suppose
that it has nothing at all in common with intellectual admiration, and
that its only spring of movement is pity. “Visiting the fatherless
and widows in their affliction,” though in our present imperfect
state the most characteristic, is not absolutely the most essential,
feature in its exercise. If it were so, indeed, the Christian would
never be comfortable except in the midst of misery; as a nurse can ply
her vocation only at the bed of the sick or the wounded. But in fact
his infinite tenderness for the lost sinner is produced and heightened
by his experience of joy from communion with saints; and the
contemplation and imitation of the image of moral perfection in the
person of the great Captain of his salvation sustains him in his
unwearied and often apparently hopeless endeavours to gather in
recruits to serve under that so glorious captainship. We shall
therefore justly say that without a Platonic love, that is, a fine
spiritual passion for the character and person of Christ, the
performance of the thousand and one works of social charity and mercy
for which the Christian is so famous would be impossible. But we may
say further, that the picture of Charity given in that wonderful
chapter of St. Paul is very far from confining the sphere of Christian
human-heartedness to that field of healing and of comforting in which
so many charitable institutions in all Christian countries are the
watch-towers. His picture evidently exhibits the ideal of a human
being, not merely in the habit of lifting the fallen, healing the
sick, and ministering, as the good Samaritan did, to those who may
have fallen into the hand of robbers--these are extraordinary {226}
occurrences, which will excite even the most sluggish to extraordinary
demonstrations of human sympathy,--but the apostle of the Gentiles
will have it that in our daily intercourse with our fellow-men we
learn to live their lives sympathetically as intimately and as
completely as we live our own; that we study on all occasions to
identify ourselves with their position and feelings and interests, and
then only pass a judgment on their conduct. “_Charity suffereth long,
and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not
puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is
not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but
rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things_.” What a problem is here,
what a lesson of humanity, of catholicity, and of something far more
human than that mere toleration, which the nations of Christendom have
taken now nearly two thousand years to learn, since the first
preaching of the gospel, and are scarcely learning even now! How much
of our daily judgments, spoken and printed, seems leavened in any
degree by the genuine humanity and manifest justice of this divine
ideal? “Speaking the truth in love” is the acknowledged law of
Christian intercourse; speaking lies in hatred were often a more
appropriate text for certain large sections of British practice. We
ought to pass judgment against our brother on our knees, fearful to
offend; we do it rather, not seldom with pride and insolence and
impertinence, mounted on the triumphal car of our own conceit, riding
rough-shod over the real or imagined faults of our brother. So far
does the ideal of Christian love, in the preaching of the {227}
Christian apostle, transcend its reality in the lives of men who, if
not Christians, at least breathe a Christian atmosphere, and ought to
have received some benefit from the inhalation!

FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES is one of the special fruits of Christian
charity, which has never been denied its due meed of acknowledgment,
though not unaccompanied sometimes with the sarcastic observation that
the pious zeal of Christian men has generally been more apt to flame
into hatred than their love to blossom into forgiveness. No man has
yet been able to say of Christians generally, as one may often have
remarked justly of Quaker ladies, that they have too much milk in
their blood; nor do British and French and German wars seem to have
abated very much in intensity for the want of a Christian text
saying--_Thou shalt love thy friends and hate thine enemies!_ Perhaps,
also, some scholar may be able to string together from the pages of
rare old Plutarch a longer chain of pretty specimens of lofty
forgiveness of enemies than can readily be picked from modern
Christian biographies. In the life of Pericles, by that mellow old
Bœotian, I remember to have read that on one occasion this great
statesman had to endure for a whole day in the agora a succession of
impertinent and irritating attacks from one of those waspish little
creatures who love to infest the presence of goodness; and he endured
it with such untroubled composure that, without taking the slightest
notice of his assailant, he executed quietly some incidental matters
of business, whose urgency demanded immediate attention. In the
evening the orator returned to his house, still pursued by the gibes
and scurrilities of his spiteful {228} little adversary. But the great
man remained unmoved; and as he entered his own gate, quietly said to
the janitor--_Take a lamp and show that gentleman back to his home!_ A
similar but more serious instance of large-minded forgiveness of
enemies is recorded by the same author in his life of Dion, the noble
Syracusan who about the middle of the fourth century before Christ
made a brilliant dash upon Sicily, similar to that which in the middle
of the last century Prince Charles Edward Stuart made upon Great
Britain, with this difference, that while the one succeeded gloriously
in his well-calculated enterprise, the other with his mock-sublime
rashness ludicrously failed. This Dion, after having planted himself
on the seat of power abandoned by the worthless usurper, found the
cause of constitutional order, of which he was the champion, suddenly
endangered by the intrigues of an ambitious demagogue called
Heracleides; but his plots were timeously discovered, and political
wisdom sealed to call upon the representative of public order to
prevent the recurrence of such dangerous dissensions by the death of
the conspirator. But the generosity of the disciple of Plato prevailed
over the severity that would have guided a common politician. Dion
forgave the offender; only, however, as it soon appeared, that the fox
chased out of the hole might begin to burrow in another. In this case
the Syracusan Platonist behaved like a modern Quaker--nobly as
concerned the sentiment of the man, foolishly considering his position
as a statesman; but while no sensible man might improve of such
conduct in a ruler, every man feels that the heathen here performed an
act of which, so far as motive is concerned, {229} the most
accomplished Christian might be proud. Let the Greeks and Romans
therefore have their praise in this matter; let “seekers after
God” in heathen times be put forward prominently as ensamples to
those who in Christian times rejoice to think that they have found
Him;[229.1] nor let sympathy be refused to noble deeds because
performed from somewhat different motives. The great heathen forgave
his enemies because he was too high-minded to allow himself to be
discomposed by petty assailants, and because a great indignation seems
wasted upon a paltry offence; the true Christian forgives his enemies
because he loves them too fervidly to have any room for hatred, and
because his sidling pity overwhelms his wrath. There is no sin in the
magnanimous pride of the heathen; there is more humanity in the quick
sympathy of the Christian. Anyhow, Christianity may claim this
peculiar merit, that it has set up that type of conduct as a general
law for every man, which among the ancients was admired as the
exceptive virtue of the few; and Voltaire certainly revealed one
source of his uncompromising hostility to the Christian faith, and
showed himself as far below the ideal of heathen as of Christian
magnanimity, when he acted so that one of his most illustrious
disciples could say of him that “he never forgives, and never thinks
any enemy beneath his notice.”[229.2]

One of the most interesting of the contrasts generally drawn between
Christian and heathen ethics, is that which concerns the very
difficult virtue of SELF-ESTIMATE. “Let every man,” says St.
Paul, {230} “strive not to think of himself beyond what he ought to
think, but soberly, according as God has divided to every man the
measure of faith.” And accordingly we find that in the lives of
eminent Christians, as well as in formal treatises on Christian
ethics, humility has always had a prominent place assigned to it in
the roll of the virtues. But here again we must beware of running into
a vulgar extreme, by imagining that the Greeks and Romans knew nothing
of this virtue, and that they systematically fostered pride and
self-importance. It is no doubt true, as every schoolboy knows, that
the word ταπεινός, which in classical Greek signifies _mean_
and _paltry_, in New Testament Greek is used to designate that sort of
person who thinks of himself modestly, or, as St. Paul in the verse
quoted says, “soberly;” but the mere change in the shade of colour
belonging to certain words when passing from Attic into Alexandrian
Greek, proves nothing in such a case; and if the matter is to be
settled by words, the phrase σωφρονεῖν used by St. Paul, taking the
place of the ταπεινοφροσύνη of other passages, is the very word by
which the Greek moralists constantly express that golden mean between
a high and a low estimate of self, which Aristotle their spokesman
lauds as the habitual tone of the perfectly virtuous man. So far
indeed was the Hellenic mind from recognising no sin in pride, that it
looked upon self-exaltation and ramping self-assertion in every form
as not only a great sin, but the mother of all sins. This sin they
designated by the significant term ὕβρις--a word which etymologically
signifies _beyond the mark_, and which, if it had not already existed,
might well have been coined by {231} Aristotle, had he been given,
like Bentham, to the pedantry of making a language for himself.

 “Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines
 Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum.”

Pride, indeed, is not only the sin by which Lucifer falls in Christian
angelography, but it peoples Tartarus also in heathen legends; and the
boastful Salmoneus, whose insane ambition aspires to mimic the thunder
of Jove, is always the first to be blasted by the bolt. Wherein then
shall we say lies the difference--for a difference there certainly
is--between the humility of the Christian and the σωφροσύνη
of the Greek? The common root of the virtue in both is plain; it is
the contrast between mortal and immortal, which belongs equally to
Polytheism and to Monotheism; pride was not made for man; let him
worship one God or many gods, he is a poor weak creature at the best,
and only the more called upon to practise a sober-minded humility
because his winged schemes so often end in creeping deeds. The
luxuriant pride of our young leafage grows up so frequently into a
shrivelled blossom and a hollow fruit. Yet there is a difference. In
Monotheism there is an impassable gulf betwixt God and man which
exists not in Polytheism. There are steps which lead up with not a few
gradations from Pericles to Zeus; the son of a Theban Semele may be
raised into a god, and the son of a god, like Hercules, may indulge
grandly in many of the stout carnalities of a mortal man. Here
therefore lies the primary ground of the more profound humility of the
Christian. But there is another, which in practice has proved even
more potent,--the intense {232} feeling of the Christian already noted
with regard to the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Every Christian looks
upon sin habitually as a healthy man looks upon the plague; in some
popular catechisms it is even laid down that “every sin, even the
smallest, deserves God’s wrath and curse both in this world and in
that which is to come;” nay, more: certain theologians, deemed by
some peculiarly orthodox, have taught that the whole world lies under
a curse on account of the guilt of the great progenitor of the human
race, in violating a special divine command, a guilt incurred some six
thousand years ago, and transmitted in due course of generation to his
hapless progeny. These dogmas, of course, are only strong caricatures
of the great fact that every deed, whether good or evil, by the
eternal constitution of things, necessarily transmits its influence
from the earliest to the latest times; families and races therefore
may lie for generations under a curse; the Greek tragedy acknowledges
this in the strongest terms; but, as in the other cases that we have
been considering, Christianity here not only intensifies a moral
sentiment familiar to the heathen world, but it extends immensely the
surface over which it is diffused. Æschylus and Sophocles could
represent a heavy curse hanging for ages over the royal houses of
Pelops and Labdacus as the consequence of monstrous sins committed by
the founders of their families; but Christianity makes no selection in
this matter, and flings the blackness of a moral blight in the most
unqualified phrase over the whole race of Adam. So far as we are
sinners we are all under a curse, all children of wrath; and no man is
supposed to be so virtuous as that he cannot {233} honestly join in
the humble response of the Litany, _Lord have mercy on us, miserable
offenders!_ These words repeated constantly in the weekly or daily
service of a whole Church should alone be sufficient to prove how much
more the virtue of humility is stamped, so to speak, into the
Christian soul, than it was into the Hellenic. One cannot imagine
either Socrates or Pericles using any such strong language. And I must
confess, when coming out into the fresh air from the long Morning
Service of the Anglican Church, I have often wondered how far the
humble prostration of soul expressed in the refrain of the Litany had
been cordially repeated by the great majority of the worshippers. The
English, as is well known, are a peculiarly proud and often somewhat
insolent people; and for myself, I honestly confess that I have always
experienced in reference to my own feelings not a little exaggeration
in the expressions of soul-prostration employed whether in the spoken
Presbyterian or in the printed Episcopalian formularies. I do not see
why Christian worshippers should so constantly avoid the language of a
reasonable virtuous self-satisfaction used by King David in not a few
places, and by Nehemiah. But however this be, and allowing that many
Christians habitually employ phrases in their church service which are
plainly at variance with the whole tone and temper of their lives, it
is after all true that Christianity, if it errs here, errs on the safe
side, and errs only as the medical men do, by using a very drastic
drug to combat a very violent disease. For it is only too obvious that
self-importance in various forms, not rarely under the decent mask of
modesty and diffidence, {234} is the dominant vice of the human
character. Young men are apt to glory in their strength, young women
in their beauty, fathers are proud of their offspring, scholars of
their learning, metaphysicians of their subtleties, and poets of the
iridescent and evanescent bubbles of a luxurious fancy and an unpruned
imagination. Men of science too are apt to be proud of their
knowledge,--whether a knowledge of what is high or what is low matters
not; it is the knowledge which puffs them up, not the thing known,
which indeed, if well weighed, were oftener the motive to humiliation
than to exaltation. We are therefore much in need of getting as much
humility from the gospel as it is naturally calculated to inspire; and
it may be observed that the public pulse is always ready to beat in
unison with the sacred text whenever a man of great original genius
stands forward, signally marked with the peculiarly Christian type of
humility. Such a man was Michael Faraday, the subtle investigator of
those secret laws which regulate the molecular action of particles of
matter among themselves.

 “Yet living face to face with these great laws,
 Great truths, great mysteries, all who saw him near,
 Knew him how childlike, simple, free from flaws
 Of temper, full of love that casts out fear.

 Untired in charity, of cheer serene,
 Careless or gold or breath of praise to earn;
 Childhood or manhood’s ear content to win,
 And still as glad to teach as meek to learn.”[234.1]

Here we have the general type of a chaste and {235} beautiful
Christian humility in the shape of a living man. To this no one
objects. It is the dogmas and the doctrinal paradoxes of the
professional theologians that are so apt to fret us; to which,
accordingly, here as in other cases, in judging of Christian ethics,
we shall be wise in not attributing too much importance.

But it were a very great mistake to imagine that in reference to the
estimate of personal worth Christianity exercises only a repressing,
and as some may picture it, a depressing, influence. On the contrary,
there is no religion that has done so much in creating and fostering the
feeling of personal worth and dignity. How is this? Plainly because,
while the Christian doctrine prostrates every man in a humble equality
before God, that very equality makes every man conscious of an equal
personality as compared with any other man. All men are sinners; if
that be a difficult doctrine to swallow there is one closely connected
with it, which is more comfortable: all men are brethren; and if
brethren, equal--a wise father has no favouritism. This is another
consequence of that monotheistic fatherhood of which we have already
spoken; it not only abolished nationalities, it created personalities.
In the preaching of the gospel each individual is appealed to as a
person with separate responsibilities; he has sinned individually, he
repents individually, he is redeemed individually. In this affair of
Christian salvation there is nothing done by proxy. Priests are not
known in the Church. The people only are the priesthood;[235.1] each
individual in the congregation has the value and the dignity of a
{236} priest. From this equality of personal dignity before God two
remarkable phenomena have flowed, both specially characteristic of
modern society--the abolition of slavery and the rivalry of religious
sects. Slavery, of course, must appear an intolerable anomaly to a man
who believes that all men are brethren and all sons of God; to call a
man brother and to sell him as a chattel is a lie too gross to be
tolerated even by a world accustomed to cheat itself with the
authority of all sorts of mere names. And as to the rivalry of
multifarious sects and churches, which some people bewail as the one
great gangrene of Christendom, it is really somewhat shallow not to
see that in the moral as in the physical world diversity of form only
proves the richness and the variety of the vital manifestation. The
external unity after which some religious persons sigh existed
naturally under heathenism, where the individual conscience was merged
in the State; exists now also in Popish countries, where the same
conscience is merged in the Priesthood; but in the Christianity of the
early Church, founded as it was on a direct appeal to the conscience
of the individual sinner, such a purely external and mechanical idea
could find no place. The right to exist at all as a Church established
the right to dissent from other Churches, by asserting its own
convictions when such assertion seemed necessary. This assertion,
indeed, might often be made foolishly, forwardly--then it was a sin,
the sin of schism; but the right to dissent was inherent, it was part
of the indefeasible birthright of spiritual liberty wherewith Christ
had made his people free. In this sense, to talk of humility were to
establish slavery; while, on the other hand, to send {237} out
branching suckers, which anon take independent root, is merely to
prove the rich vitality of the stem. Christianity has thus become the
great mother of moral individualism; and the many sects, which are so
apt to annoy us with their petty jealousies, are, when more closely
viewed, merely a true index to the intensity of our spiritual life.

On the relation of Christian Ethics to civil AUTHORITY, on the one
hand, and to the sacred right of LIBERTY on the other, much has been
written, but most frequently by partisans too interested to be capable
of an impartial judgment. The wisdom of the original preachers of the
Gospel was in nothing more manifest than in the care with which they
avoided mixing themselves up in any way with the social and political
questions of the hour; while at the same time they did not omit to
enunciate principles and to exhibit conduct opposed equally to the
servility which despotism demands and the licence in which democracy
delights. It would be easy to marshal forth an array of texts by which
the doctors of divine right on the one hand, and the preachers of the
sacred right of insurrection on the other, have endeavoured to enlist
the Saviour of mankind as a recruit in the internecine wars which they
have waged. But however Churchman and Puritan might expound and
denounce, the serene face of the Son of Mary looked always strange
through the smoke and sulphur of such struggles; his name was invoked
on both sides with most vehement protestation; but it was difficult
all the while for the impartial spectator to perceive that he was part
of the battle; he seemed always to belong to both sides, or to
neither. But sensible men of all parties {238} have at length become
convinced that to attempt to stamp the name of Christ as the special
patron of our little partisan cliques and warfares is as absurd as to
expect that the sun should come down from heaven and confine his
illumination to our private parlours. As for purely secular parties,
it is quite certain that both the extremes which divide the political
world are equally remote from the spirit of moderation and toleration
which is the very atmosphere that Christian charity breathes. Absolute
despotism, or the unlimited authority of one man over his fellows, is
a condition of things which, as Aristotle remarks, could only be
natural and legitimate in cases where the one absolute ruler happened
to be both the strongest and the best man in the community; but to
acknowledge as absolute rulers those who have no authority for their
rule but their own imperious will, and are always more likely to be
the worst than the best members of the society to which they belong,
is manifestly as directly opposed to the sense of righteousness in the
Christian code of morals as to the dictate of reason in the Greek. On
the other hand, the right of the mere numerical majority to rule,
which is the characteristic principle of pure democracy, never can be
admitted by a religion which teaches that the majority are bad, and
that we ought not to follow a multitude to do evil. The equality which
belongs to all Christians is not so much an equal right to rule as an
equal duty to obey; an equal right only to participate in those
privileges and obligations which belong to an independent human being,
not a mere chattel, as a member of a moral society called the Church,
and of a legal society called the State. The Christian {239} rejoices
indeed in his liberty; but it is not in the liberty to do what he
pleases, much less in the liberty of a majority to outbawl and to
overbear a minority by the mere power of numbers. He is free from the
pollution of sin, from the slavery of the senses, from the forms of a
cumbrous ritualism, and the exactions of a lordly priesthood; but he
is not free, and never dreams of being free, from the homage which
vice ought always to pay to virtue, from the natural subordination
that ignorance owes to intelligence, and from the sacred authority of
law. Here Christ and Socrates agree. “_Render unto Cæsar the things
that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s_.”
“_Let every soul be subject to the higher powers_.” If laws are
bad or impolitic, the guilt of their viciousness lies at the door of
those who made them, or who gave themselves no concern to have them
altered. But so long as they are laws let them be obeyed. The first
duty of the Christian is obedience to all existing laws, respect for
all established authorities, and a reverence generally for those
gradations of dignity and excellence into which the fair proportions
of the social architecture have been piled. Generally speaking he is
not an eager politician; the inspiration of large human love which
possesses his breast tenders him incapable of entering warmly into
those party struggles in Church and State with which large human love
has seldom much to do. He can neither despise the lowly majority of
his fellow-men to please the oligarch, nor trample upon the
intelligent minority to please the democrat. He has no great appetite
for power; he does not covet office; he will not intrigue for place;
he will not grasp the sceptre of civic rule with a forward hand, {240}
but wield it when it naturally falls to him with firmness as respects
others, and with a holy jealousy as respects himself; and he will
rejoice with trembling then chiefly when the victorious car of his
party friends is riding over the prostrate army of his foes. Ambition
is with him the love of usefulness, not the love of power; he
comprehends the spirit which dictated the answer of a pious English
clergyman when he refused the cure of a parish which was offered him,
for the singular reason that “the emoluments were too large and the
duty was too small;”[240.1] and he fears the dangers which may flow
from the abuse of authority more than he desires the pleasures which
are connected with its use.

Let us now, in the last place, inquire how the Christian law of right
conduct has approved itself in the history of society since the first
institution of the Church. And we seem certainly justified in starting
here with the expectation that, moved by such a fervid steam-power,
strengthened with such lofty sanctions, and displaying a scheme of
virtues at once so manly and so gentle--virtues not preached merely in
sermons or discussed in ethical treatises, but set forth in the living
epistles of two such opposite and yet both eminently Christian types
of character as St. Paul and St. John--so accoutred surely, and clad
with the perfect panoply that belongs to a great moral warfare (Eph.
vi. 13), Christianity could not but go forth conquering and to
conquer, especially when the living faith in extraordinary, and
miraculous demonstrations everywhere accompanied its march; and if it
has in any considerable degree failed to fulfil its bright promise in
regenerating the {241} face of the moral worlds this, in those who
accepted the religion, must have proceeded mainly from one of three
causes: either because the ideal was too high for them, as we are
accustomed to observe that certain nations are not socially far
advanced enough for free constitutions, and thrive best under
despotism; or from, the neglect of a regulative force which might
check the natural tendency to excess, extravagance and one-sidedness,
to which all human movements are liable; or again, from the
disturbance of the proper healthy action of the regenerative virtue of
the doctrine by the admixture of certain foreign, incompatible, and
corrupting elements. Of the first cause of failure nothing need be
said; it is with high morality as with high art, it is and it always
must be above the average reach of the great mass of men; and it may
be that in morals, as in art, some nations have tacitly agreed to let
the high standard drop, and content themselves with attaining a
manifestly inferior but more generally attainable ideal. But however
such compromises and refuges of despair may be the necessary wisdom of
politicians and of lawyers, who have to deal practically with the
selfish element in the masses of mankind, in the theory of morals, as
of art, they can certainly find no place. The Church and the Academy
must always set up the highest ideal; if they fail to do so it is only
because the inspiration which created them was originally feeble, or
has waxed faint; and if the members of the Church or the scholars of
the Academy fail to realize in their lives and in their works the
perfect pattern which has been set before them, it is the defect of
the learner, not the fault of the teacher. No one thinks of elevating
the character of art by lowering {242} the standard. And so if
Christianity is too good for mankind it must just remain too good,
till in the slow process of the ages men shall become more worthy of
it. But the two other causes of failure require to be looked into more
seriously. To the danger of excess Christian morality is peculiarly
liable, just because its steam-power is so very strong and its action
so efficacious. I read but the other day in a newspaper of a girl,
studious, as girls are apt to be, of personal beauty, who, having
picked up somewhere a fact well known to horse-dealers, that arsenic
has a specific beneficial action on the skin, set to work of her own
motion to mingle her daily potations with an infusion of the potent
metal, and did this so assiduously that in a very short time, instead
of improving her complexion, she had well-nigh removed herself for
ever from the society of the living. Now this is exactly what has
happened with Christian Ethics. Men have taken too much of a certain
virtue, say Reverence--which is the virtue most closely bound up with
religion--and have changed it into stupidity. That which was meant to
elevate human beings out of their finite littleness has been used to
depress them below the level of their meanest selves. And not only
have Christians by the excessive culture of favourite virtues turned
them into caricature, but they have assumed that because they have
learned to be Christians they should forget to be men. There are
certain human instincts, either purely physical, or closely connected
with our animal existence, so strong that the first preachers of the
evangelic ethics seem to have thought they might be safely left to
take care of themselves; but these same instincts certain
high-pressure Christians {243} who came afterwards, with more zeal
than sense, thought it their duty studiously to repress, or even
violently to extirpate. The result has been that we have seen
Christianity set at work systematically to maim that humanity which it
was intended to heal. As to the third cause of failure, the admixture
with foreign elements, it is of the same nature as the water which
dilutes the milk and the sand which debases the sugar in the
adulterated traffic of low traders. That such adulteration should
exist to a large extent in Christianity was unavoidable, so soon as
the profession of a religion so high above the measure of vulgar
ethics became respectable. When everybody was born and baptized and
bribed into Christianity, the morality which each Christian of this
external type professed must have been something as cheap as the blood
from which he was procreated, the water with which he was washed, and
the work by which he gained his livelihood.

The first, and in its epiphany one of the earliest and most
wide-spread excesses of Christian morality, was ASCETICISM. The
temptation to this lies very near, in the practice of the Christian
life, and is suggested in the strongest manner by its very language.
If sin is the flesh, and some of its most shameless and rampant
exhibitions are characteristically designated the lusts of the flesh,
it would seem that the simplest way to get the mastery of such lusts
is to keep the body under, as St. Paul has it,--to frown upon cakes
and ale, and perhaps even to extirpate certain passions, as you would
pull up dock by the long tape root, to make more room for the grass.
Nor was this altogether an unreasonable procedure. It might be very
admissible, in certain cases, to {244} become a eunuch for the kingdom
of heaven’s sake; “for the present need” he who abstained from
marriage might save himself from much incumbrance and from some
misery. The error lay in setting up that as a general ideal which was
valuable only as a device for special occasions, and possible only in
a rational way to persons of a peculiar temperament. Our Saviour
showed himself publicly at marriage-feasts as well as retired into the
mountains; he was found eating and drinking, and even changing water
into wine. St. Paul also never denied that a glass of wine was a good
thing; but Christians afterwards very soon began to act as if the
stern Baptist of the wilderness, and not the social Jesus of the
waysides, had been the pattern set up for their imitation. This
degeneration, no doubt, was the fruit of the anti-sensuous impulse
which it had been necessary to give them; and they saw daily in the
streets of Rome and of Corinth unseemly spectacles enow, of which the
lesson seemed to be: it is better to abstain than to be poisoned. Add
to this that Plato and his Alexandrian successors had thrown the whole
force of their ethics of reason on the spiritual side, and spoken of
the body often in terms of greater contempt than the Christian
apostles had ever done of the flesh. Of Plotinus, his biographer
Porphyry tells that “he lived like a man who was ashamed of being in
the body at all;” and Clemens of Alexandria, one of the most
intelligent of the Fathers, though not going to the extreme of these
Platonic devotees, speaks of a good dinner in a style calculated to
lead by a violent plunge on the other side into an artificial appetite
for dry pease and hard crusts. “We must not,” he says, “have any
care of external things, but be {245} anxious rather to purify the eye
of the soul and to chasten the flesh. Other animals live that they may
eat; man eats that he may live; for neither is eating his business nor
pleasure his good. Therefore those are strongly to be condemned who
seek after Sicilian lampreys, Mæandrian eels, Pelorian mussels,
oysters from Abydos, sprats from Lipara, Attic flounders, Mantinean
turnips, Ascræan beetroot, thrushes from Daphne, and Chalcedonian
raisins.”[245.1] Of course the sensible old Father meant this partly
as a protest against the monstrous gastronomic luxury of the Romans,
of which we read in Suetonius and other Latin writers of that age; but
it seems no less true that he was carried away in these matters by an
ideal of extravagant anti-sensualism, which had then strongly taken
possession of the Christian Church, and was indeed a rank native
growth of the East, specially of Syria and Egypt, as Church history
largely testifies. Nay, even in modern times, and in Western Europe,
where the cold climate partly excuses, partly necessitates, high
feeding, we find young persons, in the first start of a religious
life, not unfrequently led into a course of ascetic practice, as
prejudicial to their bodies as the excessive bookwork of the colleges
is to the mind. Young Whitefield, we are told, suffered not a little
from exercises of this kind; and the prolonged formal fastings
prescribed as God-pleasing by recent Ritualistic clergymen in this
country, have on more than one occasion enfeebled for a whole lifetime
the bodily functions of their virgin devotees. This is sad enough; but
it is not the worst. Such absurdities make Christianity ridiculous,
and force revolted nature into the {246} school of a benign Bentham or
an easy Hume, where one may at all events be moral and reasonable.
When we read in the biography of some modern Anglo-Catholic saint that
he feared nothing so much as the soft seduction of a slice of buttered
toast, and the golden deliciousness of a glass of Madeira, we begin to
sigh for Aristotle; it were better to have no religion at all as an
inspiring soul of morality, than a religion which lends importance to
such puerilities. But if these things have been done by certain
pseudo-Christians, and are paraded even now, there was one belief,
very common in the early ages of the Church, which tended not a little
to intensify the tendencies which lead to them. At all times it is
possible for the expectation of a future life to encroach on the
enjoyment of the present; and the growth of the asceticism of the
first centuries was beyond doubt powerfully aided by the overwhelming
influence of a newly promulgated and greedily accepted immortality,
and yet more perhaps, by the belief in the speedy second coming of
Christ. The renunciation of the world, and the more characteristic
worldly enjoyments, becomes of course much more easy when the
machinery of the world is shortly expected to stop. And thus the
weakness of human nature concurred with a number of accidental causes
to make the ascetic caricature of Christian ethics one of the most
wide-spread diseases, and an altogether astounding phenomenon in the
moral history of man. The ascetic oddities of Diogenes and a few Greek
cynics were nothing to it. The multitude of strange, and ridiculous,
and even disgusting forms which it assumed, will be found amply
detailed in the second volume of Mr. Lecky’s excellent _History_
{247} _of European Morals_, and need not be enlarged on here.

One of the strangest fancies that was ever begotten by the translation
of sense into nonsense is the idea of the Society of Friends, that
Christianity forbids war, and that self-defence is a sin.
Unquestionably Christianity forbids the spirit of hatred and the
desire of revenge; for the religion of Christ is a religion of
motives, of purity of heart, and of humanity of purpose, and could not
but forbid every spring of action that had in it the least tincture of
selfishness; but hostility between diverse interests is a fact which
Christianity could not deny, and common sense would not attempt to
explain away. What Christianity denounced was the spirit from which
wars generally arise--“_From whence come wars and fightings among
you? Come they not even from your lusts that war in your members?_”
And so far as this is the case, if these lusts were regulated by
Christian principle--that is, if love and sympathy took the place of
selfishness and jealousy, the wars that spring from their feverish
ferment and fury would not take place. But this is a quite different
thing from the natural right of self-defence; there are wars where the
aggression is all on one side, and where to yield to the assault would
be to offer a bribe to brigandage; there are wars also of pure
stupidity, where both parties don’t know what they are about, and
where it is not a pure heart but a disciplined intellect that is
necessary to prevent the fray. But whatever be the cause, wherever
there is a fermenting bed of conflicting interests of divergent
opinions and of antagonist passions, even amongst good men wars are
unavoidable; unless, indeed, such a court of impartial {248} arbiters
could be appointed, as it has hitherto proved beyond the reach of
human wit to realize; and what Christian Ethics in this case requires
is, that, contests of right being unavoidable, after every attempt at
peaceful adjustment has failed, men should go to war with a certain
mutual self-respect, and with a generous chivalry such as the knights
of the middle ages systematically fostered, carrying on hostilities
like men, and not like tigers. In this sense it has been proved
perfectly possible to love our enemies without betraying our rights,
and will become more and more practicable in the degree that
international recognition becomes more common, and a large Christian
philanthropy more diffused. But the idea that Christian love should
become so intense as absolutely to annihilate the instinct of
self-preservation, and to train every creature to love every other
creature a great deal better than itself, is pure maundering, and will
then only be tolerated among men when a decadent humanity shall have
entirely divorced piety from reason, and Buddhism instead of
Christianity shall have become the religion of the most advanced
pioneers of civilisation.

But the most general excess which runs, so to speak, in the blood of
Christian ethics, arises from the overflow of zeal without knowledge,
at one time boiling over in floods of the most savage intolerance, at
another ossified into the rigid features of the most unrelenting
bigotry. This is an evil which springs naturally from the connexion of
morality with religion; and it is an evil of so enormous a magnitude
that it seems in some sort to supply an excuse for those inadequate
ethical systems of recent growth which take no cognisance of the
reverential and devout {249} instincts of human nature, and, after the
model of Aristotle, would build up an architecture of Ethics without
piety. And if religious zeal generally is prone to run into
intolerance, it is specially so in the case of monotheism. For
monotheism is naturally intolerant; it will bear no assessor on the
supreme throne; if true, it is exclusively true. And this is indeed no
more than what it is entitled to; but it should be intolerant only of
polytheism as a system, not uncharitable to polytheists as men;
whereas it has become almost a proverb that the zeal of Christian
theologians stands divorced not only from charity, but from truth; of
all disputants men of the clerical profession are the most unfair, so
much so, that among churchmen as a class candour is scarcely a
mentionable virtue. A candid evangelist is generally a black sheep to
his brethren; assuredly he will not be found prominent in Church
debates, or forward as a leader of Church parties. But neither must we
bear too hard upon the clergy in this matter. It is human nature, in
fact, more than clerical inoculation that is to blame; and we shall
find if we look round with an impartial eye, that humanitarian
democrats, anti-church Radicals, scientific crotchet-mongers,
mathematical formulists, and conceited young poets, are equally
intolerant in their own way; only religion, like love, by the very
intensity of its excellence, raises the natural intolerance of human
nature to its highest power; it is so pleasant to stamp the name of
God upon our passions and ride triumphantly over the world in the
character of armed apostles of the most sacred truth. Hence religious
wars, which, as all the world knows, have generally proved the most
bitter and sanguinary; hence conquests, robberies, {250} and
oppressions in the name of the God of Christians; which for systematic
cruelty, treachery, and all manner of baseness, have not been
surpassed in the annals of Spartan helotage or Venetian espionage;
hence assumptions of infallibility which make reason blush, and
consecrations of absurdity which petrify common sense. And when this
flaming zeal, in more quiet times, has settled down, it does not
therefore always cease to exist, but stiffens into bigotry, and,
united with that self-importance which is so natural to man, produces
an exclusiveness and a Pharisaism of which all Christian Churches, in
seeming rivalry of the Jews, whom they revile, have presented a very
sharp and well-marked adumbration. If the religious Hindu will not eat
from a Christian’s platter, the religious Episcopalian will not dine
in the same room or stand on the same platform with the religious
Dissenter. The hissing fervour which originally forbade the approach
of two adverse churches has now been changed into a dead wall or
partition, which keeps those who ought to know, and love, and
co-operate with one another, habitually as far apart as Greeks and
Turks; so that it has become the most difficult of all social
operations to unite two Christian churches, separated perhaps by some
notion more political than religious, in the prosecution of some
common object which they both confess to be supremely desirable.

That which makes the ebullition and overflow of religious zeal so
fatal in its effects, is not merely the excess of the zeal itself,
which like all excess is bad, but the tendency of all religions to
subordinate the moral element which they contain to the religious: to
make religion a separate business instead of an ethical instrument; to
hang it as an amulet round {251} the neck, not to breathe it as an
atmosphere of social health, to nurse it as a sacred fire in the
heart, and to feel it as a power which purifies every passion,
ennobles every motive, and braces the nerve to the robustness of all
manly achievement. If there is one characteristic of Christianity more
prominent than another, it is certainly this, that it is essentially
an ethical religion; other religions favour certain virtues, or give a
certain sanction to all virtues, but Christianity is morality; the
moral regeneration is the religion. There are religions which profess
to possess a power by which its priests can bring down rain, banish
the pestilence, make the devil speak truth, and charm a murderer into
heaven. Christianity knows nothing of these tricks. Its ministers
supply no passports by which knaves and sluggards, when they escape
from the body, may pass the celestial police without question. The
Christian religion is not a special training which pious persons are
to go through in order to prepare themselves for a future world; it
calls upon every man with a loud voice to do the work of God in this
world, here where alone work is possible for us; and not until our
assigned task has been bravely done here, can there be any question of
what promotion may await us there. Had the gospel been intended
according to the vulgar prejudice now under consideration, as a
religion having an existence apart from the details of everyday
morality, John the Baptist certainly would never have been sent as its
precursor, nor the Sermon on the Mount been given forth as its
manifesto. Neither again does the famous doctrine of St. Paul, that
men are saved by faith not by works, in any wise contradict the
essentially ethical character {252} of the faith which he preached.
The works which in the Epistle to the Romans he so unconditionally
denounces, are works either of self-conceit or of sacerdotal
imposition, by which persons uninspired by a lofty moral ideal seek to
recommend themselves to God. From such a germ no moral good can
possibly grow; for as in the realm of speculation the oppressive sense
of ignorance is the commencement of true knowledge, so in the
practical world, the honest confession of sin is the commencement of
sanctification. But how little Christian faith can have any
significance apart from works, the same Apostle shows largely in the
11th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the only part of the New
Testament by the way in which a formal definition of faith is given,
and a chapter at the same time from whose copious historical
illustrations, it is plain to any child that faith is merely a
religious synonym for what we in secular language call moral heroism,
a heroism peculiarly marked as Christian only by the distinct
recognition on the part of the actor that the moral law which he obeys
is the accredited will of the Moral Governor whom he serves. Clear as
this is, however, there has always been manifested in the Christian
church a tendency to separate faith from works, a tendency which, like
other aberrations, has sometimes had the hardihood to stilt itself up
into the dignity of a dogma, and in this attitude has been known in
these latter times under the name of Antinomianism. Of a leaning
towards this monstrous doctrine, the Calvinistic churches have been
specially accused; and there can be no doubt, that in Scotland and
other countries where a Calvinistic creed is professed, notions of
this kind will always {253} find an open soil in souls of a certain
nature, notions too that will often be practically acted upon even
where they are not theoretically professed; but it is historically
certain, that of all Christian teachers the great Genevan reformer
himself was the least chargeable with any absurdity of this kind. On
the contrary, he found himself involved in a serious war with the city
to which he ministered, just because he insisted that his religion
should be practical, and his faith if it meant anything, should mean
good works; and he carried his point too in the end in spite of those
who stoutly protested that the stern limitations of gospel law marked
out by the preacher, should have nothing practically to do with the
broad licence that might be convenient for the libertine and the
publican. And indeed, it would be the greatest reform that could be
made in the Christian church at the present moment, if our popular
preachers were to give us fewer sermons, and when they did preach,
take care, like St. Paul in his Epistles, to have some distinct
practical point to speak to. For the difficulty of Christian as of all
ethics, lies not in the general rules, but in the special application
of the rules; and vague condemnations of sin however severe, and
commendations of holiness however fervid, will have little effect if
people are not to be made to understand distinctly what those phrases
so awfully sounded forth on Sunday are meant to signify on Monday. The
dignity of the pulpit, I suspect, like the dignity of history, has
often made it dull; certain it is, that whether from a false sense of
dignity, or from a religious zeal without ethical depth, or from
ignorance of those affairs to which ethical maxims must be applied, or
{254} from fear to offend those whose support is thought necessary,
the ministrations of the Christian pulpit lose not a little of their
efficiency from dealing more in the generalities of sin and holiness,
than in special vices and virtues, and from yielding to the easy
temptation of expatiating on scholastic subtleties or ecclesiastical
crotchets, instead of unravelling the perplexities of social practice,
or unmasking the disguises of individual character. Many things are
left to be handled lightly by the novel-writer, which with much more
effect might have been handled seriously in the pulpit; and in fact, I
have found not a few excellent sermons in novels, which I should have
sought for in vain in our pulpits; but the misfortune is, that people
read novels mainly to be amused, and will see the living portrait of
their own follies painted in the firmest lines, and with the most
glowing colours, without making the slightest attempt to amend their
faults. But of this enough. One thing is certain, that no amount of
faith, no amount of preaching, and no amount of prayer, can be taken
as a true measure of the genuine Christianity of any country, unless
the faith professed shall be found to be permeating every form of
social life, and elevating every trait of individual character. To any
one who wishes to see what real Christianity can do for a district in
the person of a truly evangelic and wise man, I recommend the perusal
of the life of the Rev. John Frederick Oberlin, who, in the latter
half of the last century, was, during the course of a long life,
pastor of the mountain district of the Ban de la Roche in Alsace. This
remarkable man was not content with the common ministerial routine of
preaching and praying; he saw that in the circumstances {255} in which
he was placed, nothing was to be done by mere talk; so with pick-axe
in hand he set himself to make roads; he became the forester of his
parishioners, and planted trees; their schoolmaster, and built them
schools; their architect, and reformed their cottages; their deacon,
and taught them trades; their professor, and lectured to them on
science; their physician, and taught them to live according to the
laws of health. Thus the faith which he professed turned a neglected
parish in a few years into a perfect museum of all good works, of
which a religion of the purest love was the soul; and the unobtrusive
Christian worker, who of this wilderness made a garden, was perhaps
the greatest man in France at a time when the thunders of Napoleon
were shaking the world from west to east, while his own fame had
scarcely travelled beyond the bleatings of the sheep of his own
parish. So little has the noisy applause of the world to do with some
of the highest forms of Christian virtue.[255.1]

It remains now only shortly to indicate how Christian ethics has
suffered from the admixture of adulterating elements. These are
notably three: INTELLECTUALISM, RITUALISM, and SECULARISM.
“There is a strange fascination,” says a living distinguished
theologian, “in reasoning about mysteries.”[255.2] Every religion
of course has its mysteries--for a man reverences that only which he
has reason to respect, {256} while he cannot fully comprehend it; but
the faculty of reverence when exercised on sacred mysteries should
rather deter men from presumptuous dogmatism than invite them to its
exhibition. But it has not always proved so in the Church. The
unsophisticated intellect of the laity might possibly have been
content without the vain attempt to define what is in its nature
undefinable. It is not the business of man to define God at all; our
finite work in reference to all forms of the Infinite is to
acknowledge, to worship, and to obey. But the meddling intellect of
professional theologians would not allow matters to rest here; they
proceeded to construct certain curious formulæ of doctrinal
orthodoxy, an intellectual belief in which was substituted for the
living ethical faith by which the heathen world had been regenerated.
Men were now taught to entertain the thoroughly unchristian idea that
the acceptance by the cognitive faculty of an array of nicely-worded
propositions concerning the Divine Nature and the plan of redemption
was somehow or other essential to their salvation; was certainly not
the least important element in Christian faith, and the non-acceptance
of which was held as justly excluding the recusant from the communion
of the saints. This was a sad mistake. The fiery denunciations which
St. Peter (2 Pet. ii. 1) and the other apostles uttered against those
who “privily bring in damnable heresies,” were launched not
against intellectual heterodoxies, but against the lusts of the flesh
and all sorts of sensualism; but now the hated name of heresy was
transferred to the imaginary sin of not being able to believe what a
conclave of foolish or presumptuous Churchmen chose to lay down, and
artificial creeds {257} were forged and fulminated, and flung with
stern anathemas and boastful defiance against every honest thinker who
could not be brought to believe that faith must show its efficacy
principally by its power of blinding reason and smothering common
sense. This gigantic dogmatism of the shallow understanding making an
alliance with the fervid religious zeal which has been already
mentioned, led consistently to a system of the most organized social
selfishness that the history of the world knows,--selfishness only the
more horrible that it was dignified by the most venerable names, and
consecrated by the most sacred ceremonial The office-bearers of the
originally free moral community called the Church now declared
themselves infallible, and lorded it insolently over the consciences
of those within the Church, and over both soul and body of those
without its pale. To think on any of the subjects most interesting to
a thinking man was now a sin; men who had the misfortune not to think
exactly according to the formulæ prescribed by the Church were
prosecuted as criminals, condemned as malefactors, burnt at the stake
as monsters, and refused the humanities of common burial. A compact
was made with the civil power that no situation of honour, emolument,
or trust should be given to any one who was not ready to swear to the
established orthodoxy; and thus, as human nature is constituted, not
only was thinking forbidden and absurdity enthroned, but a bribe was
held out to public hypocrisy; the conscience of young persons was
systematically debauched; and the love of truth and the independent
searching of the Christian Scriptures in many Christian churches
became utterly unknown. Such were the fruits of Intellectualism. {258}
But these portentous results were not produced by the impertinence of
the meddling intellect alone. Such a hideous domination over the
liberties of the individual conscience could not have been achieved by
one unassisted evil power. During the same period of Christian
corruption the other evil influences of RITUALISM and Secularism
were both equally active. Of these the first, though with a
distinctively religious feature, was in essential character
anti-Christian. Christianity is a religion of inward motives,
Ritualism a religion of outward forms. It was not enough that the hand
should shrink from offending; that the eye should cease from lustful
wandering; the fountains of evil desire had to be stopped in their
first wellings; the lawyer and the police might concern themselves
with the completed act and its consequences; with the evil thought,
which is the germ of all evil deeds, Christianity commenced and
finished its purifying action. Occupied with this radical
regeneration, the preachers of the Gospel never dreamt of prescribing
minute regulations about attitudes, gestures and postures, crosses,
crosiers, candlesticks and change of dresses, decorations with
banners, flags, festoons, gilded shrines, jewelled images, and other
appurtenances of flaunting ceremonial. These might be matters of
decency and taste very proper to be attended to; but to have made them
the subject of special prescription would have been to assign them an
importance which they did not deserve; nay, would have manifestly run
counter to the liberty of that religion which they taught, and
confounded it with the bondage of that Judaism--a bondage of meats and
drinks, new-moons and sabbaths, and other externalities--which neither
{259} they nor their fathers had been able to bear. And this leads us
to remark, that the oppressive puerilities of Ritualism in themselves,
perhaps more ridiculous than pernicious, were, in the case of the
Jews, and are indeed naturally everywhere, closely combined with
another evil no less foreign to the genius of Christianity, which we
may call SACERDOTALISM. The Jews and the Egyptians had a closely
banded hereditary priesthood culminating in a theocracy; the Greeks
and Romans had a sporadic priesthood of special sacred persons,
colleges and places; of these a ritual, often cumbrous, seldom
graceful, sometimes shameful, generally ridiculous, was the legitimate
exponent. Christianity with the performance abolished the performers;
prayers were declared to be the only incense, a holy life the only
offering, and a people zealous of good works the only priesthood. But
this was too good a doctrine for poor human nature to hold by, or at
least for the then stage of civilisation permanently to maintain.
People were only too glad to get theologians to think for them, and
ceremonies to dress up their devout feelings in an imposing though it
might be often a tasteless garb. These ceremonies, originally
indifferent, by the sacred character belonging to the men by whom they
were performed, soon became sacrosanct, and the performing priest
naturally attributed a special efficacy to those rites of which he was
the instrument. Whatever virtue they possessed was derived originally,
no doubt, like everything else, from God, but specially and
exclusively through him. He was the conducting rod, the chosen medium
of bringing down the spiritual electricity from heaven to earth. Thus
he became a wonder-worker more potent than the rainmakers {260} of
African superstition. He had but to open his mouth and wine became
blood, and bread flesh at the magic mutter of his lips. In a religion
thus made essentially sacerdotal, where thaumaturgic rites received
such prominence, it was impossible that the ethics of common life
should be able to maintain their original place in the idea of its
founder. Judaism, in fact, and Heathenism, had been smuggled back into
the Church; religion was one thing, moral character another; brigands
might rob and kill, and, at the same time, keep up a converse with
Heaven by the kissing of crosses, the telling of beads, and the
tramping of pilgrimages; the poles of right and wrong might be
positively inverted, while piety remained. But a still greater triumph
for the evil principle was in store. In the evangelic history of the
Temptation, it is narrated that the devil, after trying other methods
of seduction, carried our Lord up into an exceeding high mountain,
where there was a survey of all the kingdoms of the world and the
glory thereof, and pointing out these the tempter said,--“_All this
I will give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me_.” This
argument, as we know, did not succeed with our Lord; but it succeeded
only too well with those who came after Him. The marriage of worldly
power and glory, to an essentially spiritual and unworldly religion,
gave birth to that last and most potent adulteration which we have
called SECULARISM. There is no necessity, of course, that a modern
bishop should be a poor man, any more than an ancient patriarch;
Christian ethics do not forbid a man to have a fat purse any more than
a full stomach; but as a Christian may not live an epicure mainly for
the sake of his stomach, so neither {261} may he live for the sake of
his purse. And then there is a great difference between the effect of
worldly prosperity in individuals and in institutions. An individual
may be a man of exceptional virtue, and in the face of many
temptations may become more virtuous the more he is exposed; but
institutions are composed of the majority, and οἱ πολλοὶ
κακοί, the majority are not heroes. It was natural, therefore, to
expect, that as the Christian Church in its first epoch possessed a
principal element of purity in the poverty and the social
insignificance of its members, so one great occasion of its corruption
would emerge as soon as the profession of the once despised faith
became the high-road to wealth, the badge of social worth, and the
guarantee of political power, whether, “as at Constantinople, the
attempt was made to imperialize the Church, or, as at Rome, the Church
waxed into the dimensions of an empire.”[261.1] But it was not at
Rome or Constantinople only that the Church was thus secularized.
Wherever official position in a prosperous and popular church presents
an open career to persons desirous of making a respectable livelihood,
there must always be a class of people, more or less numerous, who are
ready to say in their hearts, though they may not dare everywhere to
say it openly,--“_Put me, I pray thee, into one of the priests’
offices, that I may eat a bit of bread_.” Only the means by which
this bit of bread may be obtained depends always to a great extent on
the character of the patrons; and the corruption of the church
office-bearers will always be greater where the appointment to
valuable benefices is a mere civil right, {262} belonging to private
individuals, than where it remains with its original depositaries, the
congregations of the Christian people. No doubt where popular election
exists in a church there will always be a danger of divisions, and a
sort of ecclesiastical demagogy or mean subserviency to the passions
and prejudices of the majority can scarcely be avoided; but this is a
less evil than open simony, and the usurpation of apostolic functions
by men who do not, like St. Paul, work with their own hands that they
may preach without fear, but preach that they may feed themselves, and
dress themselves, and amuse themselves, and bring up their sons to
play billiards, and their daughters to dance quadrilles with the
aristocracy of the land. This thorough secularisation of religion is
one of the most revolting spectacles that the moral history of the
world presents; and to its existence in any country, along with the
other two adulterations mentioned, must be attributed its full share
of guilt in creating that reaction in favour of a morality without
religion, and a State divorced from Church, which is one of the
favourite ideas of the democratic age in which we live. For while
Intellectualism and Ritualism expose an ethical religion to attack,
the one by planting faith in an attitude of hostility to reason, the
other, by making its worship puerile and ridiculous, the secular
corruption cuts deeper and proves suicidal to the very essence and
soul of Christianity. For by this infection a religion of the most
chivalrous love, the purest unselfishness, and the profoundest
humility, is worked up into a monstrous combination of selfishness,
pride, and hypocrisy, which tears up the very notion of public virtue
by {263} the roots; and so in point of fact it came to pass that, in
the lives of some of the most conspicuous of Christian pontiffs, there
was exhibited to the world a march of scarlet sins, unsurpassed by the
bestialities of Roman or the ferocities of Byzantine autocrats. In the
holiest courts of the most holy all was rankness, loathsomeness,
putrescence; only a theatric show of sanctitude was kept up scarcely
with decency, to deceive those who might be deceived by the good
fortune of not living too near the actors. And thus was realized the
most sorrowful example of the truth of the ancient adage--_corruptio
optimi pessima;_ THE CORRUPTION OF THE BEST THINGS IS THE WORST.



UTILITARIANISM.

{264}

OF recent British phenomena in the domain of ethical philosophy,
what is called Utilitarianism is the most notable, certainly the most
noisy. If, indeed, there is anything distinctive in the most recent
tone of philosophic thought and sentiment in this country, apart from
speculations springing out of pure physical science, it is this very
thing, or something that claims close kindred with it. It is talked of
in the streets and commented on in the closet; and numbering, as it
does, amongst its advocates some of the most astute intellects of the
age, it certainly deserves an attentive examination. No doubt its
merits, whatever they be, are likely to fall short of its pretensions;
for never was a system ushered in with a greater flourish of trumpets
and a more stirring consciousness on the part of its promulgators that
a new gospel was being preached which was to save the world at last
from centuries of hereditary mistake. At the watchword of the system,
shot from Edinburgh to Westminster more than a hundred years ago, the
son of a London attorney felt “the scales fall from his eyes;” all
was now clear that had hitherto been dim; a distinct test was revealed
for marking out by a sharp line a domain where, previous to the
arrival of the great discriminator, all {265} had been mere floating
clouds, shifting mists, and aërial hallucinations; the unsubstantial
idealism of Plato and the unreasonable asceticism of the New Testament
were destined at length to disappear; only let schools be established
for the creation of universal intelligence to assert itself by
universal suffrage, and the redemption of the world from imaginary
morality and superstitious sentiment would be complete. This, so far
as my observation has gone, is the sort of tone under the inspiration
of which the doctrine of Utility has been proclaimed to the world; and
that I am not exaggerating but rather understating the self-gratulation
of the school, is evident from the fact that Dr. Southwood Smith, one
of Bentham’s most admiring disciples, actually believed and printed
that his discovery of the principle of utility marked an era in moral
philosophy as important as that achieved for physical science by Sir
Isaac Newton’s discovery of the principle of gravitation. Nor was
Dr. Smith at all singular in this tone of transcendental laudation.
The dogmatism which, as we shall see, was a characteristic feature in
the intellectual character of Bentham, was inherited more or less by
most of his disciples; and the importance which they attribute to
themselves and their own discoveries is only surpassed by the
superciliousness with which they ignore whatever has been done by
their predecessors. This ignoring of the past, indeed, to the best of
my judgment, seems to be the radical defect, not only of the
Benthamites, but of the great body of our British philosophers from
Locke downwards; we do not start from a large and impartial survey of
the inherited results of thought, so much as from some point of local
or {266} sectional prominence; our petty systems are of the nature of
a reaction rather than an architecture, and like all reactions are
one-sided in their direction and extravagant in their estimate of
their own importance. If scholars sometimes make their learning
useless by their ignorance of the present, the men of the present are
not less apt to make their intellectual position ridiculous by
ignoring, misunderstanding, or misrepresenting their relation to the
past;--for a large appreciation of what has been achieved by our
predecessors alone can guarantee a just estimate of the true value of
our own labours. All judgments are comparative; and as Primrose Hill
is a mighty mountain to the boy born within the chime of the Bow
Bells, so Locke and Hume and Bentham may be taken for the greatest
captains of thinking by men to whom Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are
unknown.

The first thing that strikes us in attempting a critical estimate of
Utilitarianism is its name. Names are sometimes attached to systems
accidentally, and in that case need not be curiously analysed; but
when they are deliberately chosen by the propounder of a new theory,
they are significant, and provoke question. “WHY UTILITY
PLEASES” is the heading of one of Hume’s chapters; and the answer
to it simply is, that as Utility consists in the adaptation of means
to ends, and as the recognition of such adaptation is a peculiar
function of reason, it cannot but be that reasonable creatures should
receive pleasure from being affected in a manner so suitable to their
nature. The eyes, as Plotinus says, are susceptible of pleasure from
light, because an impressibility to light is of the essence of their
quality and {267} the idea of their structure;[267.1] so reason is
necessarily pleased with what is reasonable, and utility must please a
creature whose whole energy, when he acts according to his best
nature, is expended in discovering and applying means which shall be
useful to secure certain ends. But the answering of this question does
not advance us one step in moral philosophy; moral philosophy is a
science of ends, not of means--a science of what Aristotle calls the
ἀρχιτεκτονικόν, or supreme τέλος--the ultimate aim. So our new
philosophy has taken as a watchword a term that means nothing by
itself, any more than the terms _plus_ and _minus_ in algebra. To give
the term a meaning, the further question must be put, _Useful for
what?_ and then the old commonplace comes out--Useful for what all men
desire, Happiness, of course; for “all men desire Happiness,
that’s past doubt,” says Locke,[267.2] and Aristotle also, for
that matter; but we do not consult philosophers to hear such truisms.
What then comes next? The truism is put into an antithetic shape, and
we are told as the grand result of the profoundest modern thought that
_the greatest happiness of the greatest number_ is the ultimate
principle of moral science, the pole-star of all social navigation, by
attention to which alone the blinding mists of transcendental
sentiment and the sharp ledges of unnatural asceticism can be avoided.
But is this maxim really in any way worthy of the applause with which
it has been received? May we not well ask, in the first place, _Who
ever {268} doubted it?_ If happiness is desirable, and if man is
naturally a social and sympathetic animal, as all the ancients took
for granted, then the more that can be made to partake of it so much
the better. Of this neither Aristotle nor Plato ever had any doubt.
They wished every country to contain as large a population as was
compatible with the conditions of health; beyond these limits, indeed,
they saw a difficulty, and, to prevent the evil of overpopulation,
were willing to allow certain remedies which, to modern sentiment, may
appear harsh and inhuman; but they never doubted that in a
well-ordered State happiness was the common right of the many, not the
special privilege of the few; and Aristotle in his _Politics_ lays it
down expressly as a reason why oligarchy is to be reckoned among the
worst forms of government, that it assumes that power is to be used
for the interest of the few, not for the good of the many. The famous
Benthamite formula, therefore, can be regarded only as a very
appropriate war-cry for an oppressed democracy fighting against an
insolent oligarchy; to this praise it is justly entitled, and in this
sphere it has no doubt been extensively useful; but as a maxim
pretending to enunciate a fundamental principle of ethical philosophy
it has neither novelty nor pertinence.

The Utilitarian school, therefore, judged by its name, and by its
favourite shibboleth, has no distinctive character; and its chosen
appellation merely shows an utter deficiency of the first principles
of a scientific nomenclature. To say that morality consists in
happiness, falls logically under the same category with the
proposition that a cat is an animal--we {269} knew that; but what we
wish to know is, by what differentiating marks a cat is distinguished
from other animals, and specially from others of the feline family.
Wherein does the special happiness of the creature called Man consist?
Aristotle, to my thinking, answered that question with as much
precision as it ever can be answered, and neither Hume nor Bentham
added anything to his definition. So far as these spokesmen of modern
ethics said that virtue consisted in acting according to reason, as
necessarily involving the greatest happiness of the reasonable being
called Man, they said what was quite true, but nothing that was new;
they merely repeated the Stagirite, putting the element of
εὐδαιμονία into the van, which he had wisely kept in the
rear. So far as they went beyond this, they said what was neither new
nor true, but only a refurbishment of the old doctrine of Epicurus,
that for man, as for beast, pleasure is the only good, and there is no
need of a distinctive phraseology for the happiness of creatures so
essentially the same. What then is the distinctive character of
Utilitarianism, if we fail to discover it in its name? for that the
school, as a matter of fact, does stand on a very distinct basis, and
in an attitude of very decided antagonism to other systems, is
unquestioned. Between Paley, the model churchman of the eighteenth
century, and Bentham, the stereotyped hater of all churchmen,
churches, and creeds, there is no doubt a great gap; still there is a
strong family likeness even between these two extremes of the school;
and the point in which this likeness asserts itself we think may be
best expressed by the phrase EXTERNALISM. From Thomas Hobbes of
Malmesbury {270} down to Alexander Bain of Aberdeen, the morality of
the Utilitarians is a morality in which the moral virtue of the inner
soul is as much as possible denied, and the moral virtue of outward
institutional or other machinery as much as possible asserted. Look
everywhere for the origin of right and wrong--only not in the soul.
The kingdom of heaven, according to the prophets of this gospel, is
not within you, but without. This, if I am not mistaken, is the
keynote which gives a unity and a significance to all the variations
of Utilitarianism from Bentham to Bain. Let us hear it in their own
words: “What one expects to find in an ethical principle is
something that points out some _external_ consideration as a means of
warranting and guiding the internal sentiments of approbation and
disapprobation:” so Bentham. “Conscience is moulded on _external_
authority as its type.” “Utility sets up an _outward_ standard in
the room of an inward, being the substitution of a regard to
_consequences_ for a mere _unreasoning sentiment_ or feeling:” so
Bain. “The contest between the morality which appeals to an
_external_ standard and that which grounds itself on _internal_
conviction, is the contest of progressive morality against stationary;
of reason and argument against the deification of mere opinion and
habit:” so Mill. The assumptions implied in these last sentences, no
less than the proposition stated, are peculiarly interesting. They are
redolent of all that narrowness, exclusiveness, and dogmatism, which
we have already noticed as so characteristic of Bentham. It is assumed
that the advocates of an innate morality hold it to be a thing that
acts apart from, or contrary to reason. It is assumed that moral
progress is possible only {271} under the action of an ethical system
founded on the doctrine of consequences, whereas experience has proved
that a morality of motives, such as Christianity contains, is as much
capable of expansion and of new applications as any other morality. It
is assumed that all our sentiments and feelings, that is, the whole
emotional part of our nature, is to be supposed false, till its right
to exist and to energize shall have been approved by reason. But what
if emotions be primary sources of all moral life, which reason indeed
may examine, but which it has no more authority to disown than it has
power to create? What if the emotions and the sentiments, which you
treat with such disrespect, really supply the steam without which your
curious ratiocinative machinery were utterly worthless? But these
questions anticipate part of our coming argument. Meanwhile let
EXTERNALISM stand here as the only significant designation for the
system of ethics which we are now to examine; and let the word
UTILITY be remitted to that limbo of vagueness and confusion whence
it originally came forth.

It will be most convenient to treat this subject historically, because
this method will display in the clearest light the operation of that
one-sided reaction out of which the Lockian philosophy, no less than
the Benthamite Ethics took its rise. And here it will be manifest that
we cannot altogether escape metaphysics, however odious that word may
sound to the general English ear; for in our inquiry we must find or
assert certain first principles which form the foundation of all
reason, whether practical or speculative; and though metaphysics, like
clouds, are apt to be misty, they are just as certainly the {272}
fountain of all moral science, as the clouds are the fathers of the
rain, which supplies the water that moves the useful machinery of the
mill. We must therefore start from Mr. Locke, the acknowledged father
of whatever school of British thinking deserves the name of a
philosophy. No doubt before him came Hobbes; but this man stands
alone, like a huge trap-rock bolt up in a flat country; and therefore
we shall let him lie over for a separate treatment, if opportunity
should occur; but in tracing up the main line of Utilitarian Ethics
from Mill to Hartley, I found that they ended naturally and
legitimately in Locke, just as a net-work of waters may often be
traced to one common well-head. Now Locke is the father of what the
Germans call the empirical philosophy. What does this mean? It simply
means, as any one may see by a superficial glance cast on the first
chapter of the “Essay on the Human Understanding,” that he
commenced his philosophy by a formal declaration of war against the
doctrine of INNATE IDEAS inherited by modern thinkers from the
Platonists of Athens, Alexandria, and Florence; and, if all innate
sources of true knowledge are denied, then there remains for morality,
as for everything else, only the source of external experience, which
comes to us not by nature but by acquisition; for according to the use
of the English language, whatever things a man does not originally
possess, he acquires. Locke, therefore, in the language of Plato and
Aristotle, denied the existence of ἐπιστήμη, or science properly so
called, which is founded on necessary principles of internal reason,
and asserted that all knowledge is to be got by ἐμπειρία or
experience, in other words, is what the {273} Germans call empirical.
That Locke’s ideas on this fundamental question of all speculation
were anything but clear we shall see immediately; but on the face of
the matter the very noticeable thing is, that in rejecting the
doctrine of innate ideas the Englishman does not go directly to Plato
and Plotinus, the sources from which this doctrine had come, but he
goes to war with certain floating loose notions of Herbert and other
dreamy speculators of his own or the previous generation. Now, this is
evidently a method of proceeding altogether unphilosophical. If a man
means to refute Christianity scientifically, he does not go to the
books of the Jesuits, but to the New Testament. So the refutation of
the doctrine of innate ideas should have commenced with the
examination of Plato, its original promulgator. But it was Locke’s
destiny to fight against Plato as Bacon fought against Aristotle,
without knowing his adversary. The consequence was in both cases the
same; a real battle against a real adversary, and a real victory on
the one side against a real defeat on the other; but not the victory
and not the adversary supposed. The world, however, always willing to
be deceived by names, gave the combatants credit for having done a
much greater thing than they had really achieved; it was not the mock
image of Æneas, but the real Æneas that Diomede had routed in the
fight. And so it came to be an accepted fact in this country with
large classes of persons that Locke had driven Plato out of the field,
just as Bacon had quashed Aristotle. And the deception in the case of
Locke has lasted longer; and that for a very obvious reason. The
physical science movement {274} inaugurated by Bacon led much more
naturally to a recognition of the true Aristotle than to a recovery of
the genuine Plato. It suited the practical genius of John Bull to
regard the severe Idealist as a transcendental dreamer; and Mr. Locke
taught him to put this shallow prejudice into dignified and grave
language. A thinker who does such a service to any nation is pretty
sure to be overrated; and so it fared with Mr. Locke, who besides
being a thinker was a sensible man, and on public affairs held liberal
opinions in harmony with the progressive element of the age.
Accordingly a recent juridical writer of the Utilitarian school has
not scrupled to call him in the most unqualified terms, “the
greatest and best of philosophers.”[274.1] With this partial
verdict, however, we do not find that foreign writers agree; and the
following estimate of the merits of our typical English Philosopher by
a recent German writer, is unquestionably nearer the truth.
“Precision and clearness, perspicacity and distinctness, are the
characteristic of Locke’s writings. Acute rather than deep in
thinking, he is true to the character of his nationality.”[274.2] So
much for the position of our great English “empiric.” Let us now
look more nicely at his doctrine, and the reasons of it.

The philosophy against which Locke argues is, that there exist
“certain innate principles, primary notions, κοιναὶ ἔννοιαι,
characters, as it were, stamped on the mind, which the soul receives
in its very first being, and brings into the world with it”--(i. 2.)
And the assertion of the belief in these innate ideas, he afterwards
indicates to have approved itself “a {275} short and easy way for
lazy people, and of no small advantage for those who affect to be
masters and teachers. Nor is it a small power it gives one man over
another to have the authority to be the dictator of principles, and
teacher of unquestionable truth, and to make men swallow that for an
innate principle which may serve his purpose who teacheth them”--(i.
4. 24.) From these words it is plain that Locke protested against the
doctrine of innate ideas, in the same spirit, and with the same
object, that Luther did against the doctrine of the infallibility of
the Pope; his mission, he considered, was to rouse reason from its
lethargy, and to teach men to think with open eyes, not blindly to
believe; and, in so far as he meant this, the mission of the
philosophical, as of the religious reformer, was unquestionably right.
But, as above remarked, in making this protest, he was fighting
against the language of Plato without knowing, or, so far as we can
see, ever attempting to know the ideas of Plato. This will be more
manifest from the arguments which he uses. “If there be such innate
principles,” says he, “it is strange that children and idiots have
no apprehension of them; children do not join general abstract
speculations with their sucking bottles and rattles”--(i. 2.) “If
we attentively consider young children, we shall have little reason to
think that they bring many ideas into the world with them”--(i. 4.
2.) These are Mr. Locke’s words, and they certainly indicate a
conception of the doctrine of innate ideas the most crass and crude
that could well be conceived. Assuredly neither the Athenian, nor the
Alexandrian, nor the Florentine Platonists, ever dreamt of anything so
absurd. Surely Plato knew that children {276} did not march into the
world with Euclid’s axioms in their mouth, nor did he believe that
even a miraculous baby, like himself, came out of his mother’s womb
armed cap-à-pie with all the principles of the ideal philosophy, like
Pallas Athena out of the head of Jove. What Plato actually said was,
that everything was what it grew to be by virtue of a divine type,
which lay in the germ, and which type was the expression of an
energizing thought in the Divine mind; and this type, form, or idea
(εἶδος), he called innate, because it was possessed originally
as part of the internal constitution of the thing, not acquired from
without. Who the men were who in Locke’s day or before him,
maintained the existence of ready-made, panoplied, and full-grown
ideas in the minds of idiots and babies, I do not know; but, so far as
the Platonists were concerned, the Englishman was fighting with a
shadow. Idiots, in any case, as imperfect and abnormal specimens of
their kind, have nothing to do with the argument; and as to children,
the things that sleep within them cannot, in the nature of things, be
known till they grow up into full leafage and burst in perfect
blossom. Inborn ideas are not the less inborn because they do not
exist full-grown at the moment of birth. They did exist for ever in
the original self-existent Divine mind; they do exist in the derived
existence of the human mind the moment it awakens into consciousness
of its individualism. In either case they are not acquired; they are
possessed. Plato’s doctrine, therefore, was, that the germ of all
human ideas lies in the human mind, and is developed from within, not
derived from anything external. In this, there cannot be the slightest
doubt that he spoke wisely; {277} as little that Mr. Locke wrote most
unwisely, when, in accounting for the origin of our ideas, he said,
“the senses at first let in particular ideas and furnish _the empty
cabinet_.” Here we fall in with one of Mr. Locke’s short similes,
which have proved more effective in spreading his doctrine than his
diffuse and somewhat wearisome chapter. “One of the most common
forms of fallacious reasoning,” says Mr. Mill, “is that of arguing
from a metaphysical expression as if it were literal.”[277.1] This
is precisely the error which seems to have run away with the wits of
the sensation-philosophers, when they read Mr. Locke’s chapter on
the Origin of Ideas. The mind was “an empty cabinet,”--if empty,
it had merely a holding or containing power, before it was filled and
furnished altogether and absolutely from without. But a single word
will show the inadequacy and the utter falsity of this style of
talking. The senses (as Plato long ago showed in the _Theætetus_) let
in no _ideas_, they let in _impressions_, which the plastic power of
mind elaborates into ideas; and again, the mind is in nowise like an
empty cabinet, in which the senses hang up ready-painted pictures; but
the mind, in so far as it creates ideas, and not merely experiences
sensations, both paints the pictures and hangs them up, and this it
does by an inherent divine power and divine right, of which no mere
sensation can give any account. In fact there is nothing more hopeless
than an attempt to explain the genesis of ideas, connected as it is
with the miraculous fact of consciousness, by any sensuous process. It
were much nearer the truth to adopt the strong language of a
distinguished Scotch metaphysician, and say that {278} “man becomes
an I or a conscious being, not in consequence of or even on occasion
of his sensations, but actually in spite of them.”[278.1] The real
fact of the matter is, as any one may observe in the reasonings of
young persons, that in the formation of ideas the mind is active, not
passive; and this distinction is strongly expressed in the very
structure of some languages, in which verbs, expressive of mere
sensation, such as verbs of smelling, are followed by the case which
belongs to the passive voice, whereas verbs which express both a
sensation and an intellectual idea, imposed on the sensuous expression
by the plastic mind, demand the case which belongs to the presence of
an active and transitive force. The healthy instincts of the human
race manifested in the common uses of language, are often more to be
trusted in such matters than the subtleties of metaphysicians. Nature,
at least, which the popular instinct follows, is always complete;
speculation is apt to be one-sided. If we will have a simile that may
express both sides of the wonderful fact of knowledge, we may say
sensation supplies the materials, but the manufacturer of ideas is
MIND.

I said above that Mr. Locke was a sensible man; and it is nothing
contrary to this to admit that by the incautious use of one or two
strong similes--“the empty cabinet, the sheet of blank paper, and
the dark room,”--he became the originator of a school which made
itself famous by the ingenious maintenance of the nonsense that
judgment and sensation are the same thing. A vain Frenchman, pleased
to utter glittering paradoxes in gay saloons, might say this, might
even go so far as to parade the proposition {279} that if horses had
only possessed human hands they would have been men, and if men had
been armed with equine hoofs they would have been horses; such
paradoxes were, no doubt, a logical deduction from the doctrine that
sensation is the father of ideas, and that all internal faculties are
the result of mere external forces; but Mr. Locke was too much of a
solid and sober Englishman to allow himself to be led into sheer
nonsense by the charm of mere logical consistency, and chose rather to
prove his good sense by his inconsistency. After asserting in the
strongest terms that the only origin of ideas is sensation, he goes on
to divide ideas into ideas of sensation and ideas of reflection, which
division instantly suggests the question--_What is reflection, and
whence comes the reflecting power?_ And by raising this question the
empirical speculator at once brings in the whole of Platonism and
innate ideas by a side gate, just after they had been driven out at
the grand entrance; for how can this question be answered except in
the well-known words of Leibnitz--“_Nihil est in intellectu quod non
prius fuerit in sensu_, NISI INTELLECTUS IPSE.” Mr. Locke’s
successors, however, have shown no inclination to follow his example
in this respect. They have been ambitious of the cheap popular virtue
of consistency, which even thieves and murderers may achieve; and
verily they have had their reward. Their master may be compared to a
man who held out a poison in his right hand, and administered
forthwith the antidote with his left. His followers, from Helvetius to
Mill, thinking--naturally enough perhaps--that the right hand
contained the right thing, instantly snapt it up and ran away with it,
not choosing to encumber {280} themselves with the incongruous bounty
of the left. The fruit has been that climax of nonsense in which half
truths always issue when left to blossom by themselves. The
one-sidedness of the philosophy taken from Locke’s right hand,
which, in a popular way we may call Materialism, culminates in the
Nihilism of John Stuart Mill. Under his cunning manipulation not only
mind vanishes but the outward world also. “It may be safely laid
down as a truth that of the outward world we know and can know
nothing, except the sensations which we experience from it; ontology
therefore is not possible.” So what Plato called the human mind and
the New Testament the human soul, becomes only a bundle of sensations.
But the fallacy involved in this phraseology is easily pointed out.
Instead of saying, We know nothing but sensations, he ought to have
said, Nothing but sensations, and the thoughts or ideas vulgarly
called classes of things and laws of nature which we recognise in the
outward world, by virtue of the thoughts and ideas that arise out of
the necessary action of the thinking Unity, the Creator of thoughts
and ideas within us; and an ontology therefore is possible, because we
know what we are as thinking beings by the very act of thinking, and
we know what the world is as the general and absolute thought, or
rather the product and manifestation of absolute thought, by the
recognised identity of its working and products with the working and
products of our own minds. In other words, Thought, or Reason, or
Mind--God the absolute thought, and man in his little world of limited
thinking, is the only thing that is or can be meant by an ontology,
and is known partly as direct fact, partly as indirect, but {281}
assured inference from unequivocal manifestation. This is the common
sense of the whole matter; and whosoever will not accept this may
content himself with Nihilism and Atheism. I cannot.

So much for the strictly metaphysical part of the empirical doctrine.
Let us now consider shortly its application to morals. “Moral
principles,” says Mr. Locke (i. 3), “are even further removed than
intellectual ones from any title to be innate. Will any one say that
those who live by fraud and rapine have innate principles of truth
which they allow and assent to?” This question displays in the most
vivid manner the extraordinary misconception, not to say
wrong-headedness, which possessed the English philosopher as to this
whole matter. The nature of innate ideas implies neither universality
nor inaccessibility to corruption. A man may be born with an innate
sense for music, though all his fellows were as harsh as asses or as
deaf as stones. If some men are colour-blind, and others purblind, and
others altogether blind, these defects, inadequacies, or total
eclipses of vision, do not make light intrinsically a less enjoyable
thing, or the healthy eye an organ less marvellously adapted for
enjoying it. As with vision so with morals. A whole population given
to drunkenness does not make drunkenness a whit less beastly, nor will
the general practice of fraud and rapine render the appropriation of
my labour by another man’s rapacity a whit more reasonable. Again
says Mr. Locke (i. 3, 4), “There cannot any one moral rule be
proposed whereof a man may not justly demand a reason,” from which
sentence it plainly appears, that, whereas by innate ideas Plato means
the necessary expression of reason in a normally developed {282} mind,
Locke understands by them some blind unaccountable impulse independent
of and extrinsic to reason. The supplying of a reason for any course
of action, say for speaking the truth or keeping a man’s word, does
not in the least make that course of action less the product of a
truthful instinct in nature, or an innate love of truth. Morality is
not the less innate because it is reasonable; but inasmuch as it is an
essential element in the universal or divine Reason, in virtue of this
it is necessarily an inborn quality in the individual or human reason,
always of course with the probability of those large exceptions and
defections which the very nature of finite existence implies. But we
need not detain ourselves with a chapter of such shallow
misunderstandings. The immoralities and follies of men, though a
thousand times as many as they are, no more affect the inborn
necessity and absolute immutability of the moral law, than the false
summing of a class of schoolboys affects the relations of number.
Errors are as common in arithmetic as in morals; only men hire those
special pleaders, their passions, to justify the moral law, while the
arithmetical blunder is exposed by the master of accounts. But though
Mr. Locke argues against the existence of innate ideas in morals with
even more self-gratulation than in his psychological account of the
formation of ideas, we are not to suppose that his ethical theory was
in any respect identical with that of the modern Utilitarians. He
sowed the seed for their doctrine, no doubt, but himself had his
garner well stored with grain from a very different source. He was a
Christian, and believed in Divine law; he was a theist and believed in
God. The modern Utilitarian believes only in a bundle of {283}
sensations and in an invariable sequence. By denying innate ideas of
morality, Mr. Locke, as his illustrations prove, only meant to
proclaim the very obvious fact, that, as all men obviously do not
agree in their principles of action, it is reasonable to demand of
them some reason for accepting one principle of action rather than
another. No man can object to such a reasonable demand. But this does
not prevent him in another place (ii. 33. 11), from talking, as no
modern Utilitarian would, of “the unchangeable rule of right and
wrong which the law of God hath established.” This method of
speaking, common to Locke I believe with many of the most solid
thinkers of his time, would lead me to class his ethical doctrine
under the rubric of what might be called THEOCRATIC INSTITUTIONALISM;
that is to say, he looks on morality as the result of a law laid down
and sanctioned by the ultimate source of all laws, physical as well as
moral. This, no doubt, seems to imply something arbitrary, which
neither Plato nor Aristotle would allow to be possible in any of the
fundamental manifestations of Divine reason; but notwithstanding this
preference of the word νόμος, _law_, to φύσις, _nature_, had
the English thinker been cross-questioned on the subject, he would
probably have said that these institutions or laws which God lays on
man flow necessarily from the excellence of the Divine nature; and
this would have been pure Platonism. That he was sound-hearted at
bottom no less than sound-headed, his book amply proves,
notwithstanding the confusion of ideas in which he entangled himself
by the assertion of propositions which, when logically followed out,
lead directly to materialism in philosophy, atheism in theology, and
sensualism in morals.

{284}

The next significant name in the genealogical tree of modern
Utilitarianism is DAVID HARTLEY. As it was the distinction of Mr.
Locke to have given respectability to the vulgar British prejudice
against innate ideas, so the claim of Hartley to reputation rests on
his having first given prominence to the doctrine of the association
of ideas, a doctrine which from its originator down to the most recent
times, plays an important part in every form and phasis of speculative
and practical externalism. Hartley was a Yorkshireman, born at Armley,
near Leeds, in the year 1705, educated at Cambridge originally for the
Church; but having a thoughtful mind and a tender conscience, he did
not feel himself in a condition to subscribe the Church Articles in
the offhand way which academical morality sanctioned; and accordingly
betook himself to the study of medicine, an art which he afterwards
practised with success, first in Newark and London, and then at Bath,
where he died. These facts are of great significance, as indicating
the remarkable combination in his character and works of an extremely
sensitive evangelic morality, with a tendency to give physical
explanations of spiritual operations, from which evangelic moralists
are naturally averse. The object of his great work, _Observations on
Man_, published in the year 1749, is to give a complete treatise of
human nature on the inductive method of Locke and Newton; and
accordingly the first volume, which contains his most peculiar views,
is merely a following into detail of the doctrine of Locke, that all
our knowledge proceeds from sensation, and that ideas in the brain are
the product of impressions on the sensuous nerves. This one-sided
notion Hartley {285} pursues into the inmost network and curious
membranous wrappings of the brain, and by the action and reaction and
interaction of vibrations and vibratiuncles in that region, attempts
to explain the generation of thought and reasoning; and this he does
through long chapters, and with not a little iteration, in language
than which the most extreme materialist could desire nothing more
crass. In fact, we find in Hartley the great precursor of those
masters of physical science in the present day, who seem to expect
some important discovery in mental science from the curious comparison
of cerebral structure in the monkey and the man. A few short extracts
will make this more obvious. “Simple ideas,” he says, “run into
clusters and create complex ideas”--(i. 75.) Here we have that vague
use of the word “idea,” which serves equally for a sensation and a
thought, and which lies at the bottom of all that strange confusion of
thought which runs with such unhappy persistency through all the
speculations of Mr. Locke. Again, “Ideas, intellect, memory, fancy,
affections, will, all these are of the same original, and differ only
in degree, or some accidental circumstance; they are all deducible
from the external impressions made on the senses, the vestiges, or
ideas of these, and their mutual connexion by means of association
taken together and operating on one another” (i. 80). And in harmony
with this (i. 101), he afterwards gives a formal derivation of ideal
vibratiuncles from sensory vibrations; and (103) talks of that “idea
or state of mind, _i.e._ set of compound vibratiuncles, which we term
the WILL;” and again (p. 212) he says, “the permanence of
sensations is of the nature of an idea.” Here the great {286}
mystery which puzzled the Greeks so much, the mysterious bond which
unites the ἕν and the πολλά--the one and the many--is solved
very decidedly, as it would appear, on the Epicurean side. It is not
the one which produces the many, but the many which produce the one;
the one--what I call Mind, Will--is only a modification of the many.
The radical objection to all this is that every man who is not a
professional metaphysician feels it to be nonsense; the popular
feeling protests; Shakespeare, who represents the thoughts and the
language of a high and a healthy humanity, never talks in this style;
and, more than that, the profoundest thinkers from Plato down to Hegel
find in the proposition that thought is manufactured out of sensations
a much greater mystery than that which this theory was invented to
explain. One feels conscious that sensations might go on for ever, and
not produce anything that had the slightest semblance to a thought;
just as rain and sunshine acting on thistle-down from summer to summer
produce only thistles and not roses. It appears, indeed, that our
inductive philosopher is here involving himself in the vulgar fallacy
of confounding the occasion or the condition of a thing with the
cause. An accidental occasion, or an indispensable condition, are
equally remote from the idea of a cause. The accidental occasion, for
instance, of a house being built on a certain site, is that a certain
gentleman, happening to take a walk in a certain district, and being
not averse to house-building, determines to have a house on that site;
the indispensable condition of the house being erected is that there
should be a site for it to stand on, and stone and lime for it to be
built with; but the only proper efficient {287} cause of the house
being a house is the mind of the architect, the plan which that mind
originates, and the instructions which he gives to the contractor, and
the contractor to the masons. The sensuous tendency which Hartley’s
medical studies had given to his thoughts comes out strongly in
another passage (i. 342), where he attempts to explain the evidence of
mathematical axioms:--“We infer that 2+2=4 only from prior instances
of having actually perceived this; and from the necessary coincidence
of all these instances with all other possible ones.” This recalls a
famous passage in J. Stuart Mill’s treatise against Sir W. Hamilton,
in which he stamps with his authority the ingenious demonstration of a
London barrister, to the effect that “in some possible world two and
two may make five”--where, however, the more recent is grandly
consistent as compared with the wavering double-sidedness of the more
ancient speculator. The fact of the matter is, that Hartley, like
Locke, was swayed at bottom by a sound sense and a lofty religious
philosophy which crossed his mechanical theories; whereas the modern
thinker, not believing in Mind, properly so called, at all, but only
in a bundle of sensations and a thread of associations, like the
Romanist Transubstantiation doctors, had no scruple in flinging open
defiance in the face of Reason, and making a public ovation of
unmitigated nonsense. Such is the natural culmination of all one-sided
philosophizing. The seed of a favourite fancy grows up into a stately
dogma; the dogma blossoms into a paradox; and the paradox ripens into
an absurdity. The extreme nonsensicality of Mill, and the mildly
modified error of Hartley with regard to {288} the nature of
mathematical evidence, arise from the same cause. They are only the
natural expression of the principle that thought is sensation and
sensation is thought; thought the matured sensation, and sensation the
nascent thought. Mill denies altogether the existence of thought as a
distinct thing from sensation; therefore he is quite consistent to say
that in some possible world two and two may make five; for it is as a
thing thought, and not as a thing perceived, that in the science of
number 2+2=4. Mill, in fact, by this paradox, with a hardihood of
consistency which is almost sublime, denies the possibility of science
altogether; there is no ἐπιστήμη of any kind possible any
more than ontology; only ἐμπειρία is possible--an experience
of something that is accidentally what it is, and may have been
otherwise. This is the highest power of what the Germans call the
“Lockian empiricism;” and Mr. Mill in asserting the contingency of
all science, has argued, as a good logician could not but do, from
that half of the truth of things which it has been the unfortunate
destiny of him and his school to mistake for the whole. As for
Hartley, he qualifies his one-sidedness with a condition which takes
the sting from its nonsense, and, like Locke, saves himself by a very
transparent inconsistency; for he talks of a “_necessary_
coincidence” of a certain number of observed equalities with all
possible equalities; interpolating thus into the product of sensations
the idea of necessity which belongs to a different region altogether,
and by no possibility could grow out of a mere succession of sensuous
impressions and nervous thrills, however often repeated. A tide-waiter
may feel convinced that the tide will {289} flow to-morrow just as it
has flowed to-day, and has flowed regularly ever since he began to
observe its motions; but no degree of strength in this conviction
comes up to the certainty which every sane man has that two and two
not only always do make four, and always have made four, but in every
possible world must make four. The two certainties differ not in
degree only but in kind; and mathematical demonstration having to do
only with thoughts, the creation of pure mind, cannot in the slightest
degree be affected by any complete or incomplete realization of these
thoughts in any time, past, present, or to come. When I say that all
the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, or that the
angle at the centre of a circle is double the angle at the
circumference, I prove this from certain necessary relations of lines
to lines drawn under conditions of which my thought is the absolute
master. The proof is only the evolution of what lies in the thing,--of
what cannot be otherwise, so long as the figure remains subject to the
dictatorial power of my conception.

It will be now quite evident from these specimens, that Hartley’s
philosophy is just the sensuous side of Locke worked curiously into
detail, with a practical rejection of the intellectual side. Indeed,
he says expressly (i. 360) that “all our most complex ideas arise
from sensation, and REFLECTION IS NOT A DISTINCT SOURCE, as Mr.
Locke makes it.” This throwing of reflection overboard is the
necessary postulate of all the absurdity that afterwards grew out from
the Lockian philosophy; and James Mill accordingly[289.1] disowns the
“ideas of reflection” with {290} the same fatal one-sideness, and,
it may be added, with the same transparent superficiality of logic;
for when a man talks of “generalizing states of consciousness,”
what is this but another term for reflection? Generalizing is a
species, and one of the most universally practised species, of
reflection.

It was necessary to be thus particular about Hartley’s doctrine on
the generation of ideas, because, as expressed in the above passages,
it is one of the broadest statements of Externalism possible, and if
consistently followed out, as it has been by the Mills, neither morals
nor mathematics can escape from its grasp. According to this doctrine
there exists no morality founded on the eternal reasons and relations
of things, but all notions of right and wrong proceed from association
alone, from clusters of ideas which are only modified sensations,--all
affection as well as all reasoning being the mere result of
association--(i. 499.) Let us now inquire a little more closely what
this ASSOCIATION is, which performs such marvels in the
transmutation of sensations into ideas; for surely never was a word so
largely used by philosophical writers in recent times, and so
villainously abused. Association is a popular term, and therein
precisely lies its large capacity of doing harm, when sophistically
used. Now what it means in popular language is pretty plain. When I
think of London I think of beauty, splendour, magnitude, multitude,
wealth, din, incalculable noise of rattling cabs above ground and of
screeching railways under ground. These are my associations with
London. When I think of Oxford, I think of Greek and Grammars and
square caps, of {291} mitres, and lawn sleeves, High Church and Broad
Church, learning and luxury, bigotry and boating, cricket, cram, and
scholarly conceit. When I think of the Highlands, I think of Bens and
Glens, of lochs and waterfalls, of steamboats and tourists, of
salmon-fishing, grouse-shooting, deerstalking. Free Churches,
untrousered legs, and Ossianic poems. There does not seem much mystery
in this. Ideas must hang together somehow or other; if they did not,
they would be like a swarm of mad bees in our head, and would reel
about in an unmanageable chaos; if therefore they are to hang together
in some way, what more natural than that those ideas which come in
together should remain together, and that those which have a family
likeness and affinity should arrange themselves into companies. Add to
this the natural tendency of black to recall white, and of life to
suggest death, and you have the whole three bonds of association among
human thoughts and emotions--contiguity, similarity, and contrast--of
which philosophical writers make parade. Now what is the place which
belongs to this popular principle of association in a system of
metaphysics or mental philosophy? To me its place appears a very
secondary one; and to give it any place at all we must carefully
distinguish between accidental and necessary, between ephemeral and
eternal associations, the confounding of which rather seems to stand
out as the prominent employment of the Sensation philosophers. There
are two great classes of associations, the one principally of external
and accidental, the other of internal and necessary origin; the one
dominant in weak minds, the other in strong minds; the one common to
us with the brutes, the {292} other altogether impossible to brutes;
the one more in the manner of a loose bundle, the other in the style
of a stable architecture. With people not much given to think
consecutively ideas are apt to hang together by certain mere
superficial points of attachment; like drifted matter on an open
beach, they lie just as they come in; the most incongruous things
together all in a heap. Such associations, subjected to no controlling
and discriminating power, are the fruitful source of all vain
opinions, prejudices, senseless conceits, and hollow reasonings. With
another class of people, again, in whom a strict watch is always kept
over the materials with which sense supplies the mind, we find a
totally opposite sort of associations. In this case the influence of
the external factor diminishes, while the internal factor comes
largely into play. The mind of such persons is not merely a mirror of
such things as may chance to fall upon it, it is a commander-in-chief
and a dictator, which discriminates, selects, and disposes according
to an innate ordering faculty, which rejoices to trace out the cognate
order which everywhere lives beneath the diverse surface of external
things. The former of these forms of association is always more or
less arbitrary; the latter is imperatorial and absolute; the one
claims kinship with mere fancy and fashion; the other is reason in the
realm of imagination rejoicing in the discovery of what under various
guises is only a manifestation of the eternally Reasonable. Now the
fault of the Association theory as used by moralists of the
Utilitarian school, is that they have left reason altogether out of
the account, and fixed their eyes exclusively on those external
associations {293} which form the principal furniture of the lower
class of minds; nay, they have gone further than this, and
systematically explained away the highest ideas, such as Beauty and
Duty, into mere unsubstantial or monstrous products of some abnormal
association! The applause which Alison received in Edinburgh by the
publication of a treatise on Beauty, the drift of which was to resolve
all our ideas of what is excellent in form or expression into mere
arbitrary association; is one of the great reproaches of the Scottish
philosophy. Similar ideas with regard to Duty are vented by Professor
Bain.[293.1] Here, as in every other case, we see that it has been the
business of the successors of Locke in this country to exaggerate his
errors and to omit his truths. With regard to association Mr. Locke
(iii. 33) did the wiser thing when he treated it not as the handmaid,
much less as the substitute, for reason, but rather as its great
enemy; and in the domain of morals, particularly, Professor Ferrier
does not overstate the matter when he says in his own eloquent way
that the Utilitarian philosophy presents to us “not the picture of a
man, but that of a weathercock shifting helplessly in the winds of
sensibility, a wretched association-machine, through which ideas pass,
linked together by laws over which the machine has no control.”[293.2]
And another sturdy Scotch thinker, yet alive, justly indignant at the
juggle which has been played with this word, bursts out into the
exclamation, “The Association psychology,--that barren bastard,
between Materialism and Idealism, which, but intended as a jeer to the
priest, is a disgrace to common-sense.” {294} Thus the Scottish
interpreter of Hegel; but though these strong words, in the fulness of
their meaning, may be applicable to his successors, Hartley certainly
never intended by his curious interplay of vibrations and
vibratiuncles to jeer the ministers or to damage the cause of
Christianity. In this respect he was a perfect parallel to Locke. He
had inherited the central idea of all true philosophy,--the idea of
God,--from Christianity; and he stuck by that. And if in his first
volume he seemed to derive the noblest thing internal from the basest
things external, to turn the whole miraculous world of thought and
feeling, as Ferrier says, into a wretched “association-machine,”
it was not so bad after all; for behind the machine he believed also
in the steam, and the imperial mind of Him who made the machine; so in
theology he remained a sound theist, and in morals he went so far as
literally to stumble on the paradoxical love of “self-annihilation,”
so prominent in the transcendental ethics of Budd. Hartley was the
most pious and the most pure of metaphysical writers; and while he
balanced his first proposition that “sensations beget ideas” by a
second, that “God is the source of all Good” (i. 114), and a
third, that “Final causes are the key to all mystery” (i. 366), he
might launch his book into the world with a good conscience, and the
sure hope of a good result, if only people would take him as a whole.
This, however, unfortunately, people had not the thought or the will
to do; the fewest people, Goethe said, can comprehend a whole; so they
took up his sensuous association, and left his spiritual piety to
float. He fared in this like St. Paul, whose sound sense, we read,
certain persons lightly dismissed, {295} who were forward to wrest his
more obscure doctrines to their own destruction.

There are two points generally discussed in ethical treatises, which
belong most naturally to our present rubric; _first_, whether moral
judgments are performed by a separate faculty called Conscience;
_second_, whether all our emotions are not originally selfish; whether
benevolence, like remorse, is not a derived and compounded rather than
an original and simple element of our nature. To both these questions
the Association theory of Hartley gave the start; for with him, as we
have seen, everything is compounded; will, judgment, conscience,
whatever acts seem most emphatically to proceed from the imperial I
within, are radically only transmuted sensations, the composite result
of a curiously interwoven tissue of associations. Now there are no
questions in ethical science more easily answered than these.
Conscience is certainly not a separate faculty; it is an exercise of
judgment, that is, of discriminating reason, accompanied with an
emotion. You confess to me, for instance, as your friend, that on such
and such an occasion, from a regard to some petty interest, or a
desire to curry favour with some influential person, you displayed a
cowardly reticence, where an open profession of your sentiments would
have been advantageous to the cause of humanity; and you feel ashamed
of your conduct. Here is nothing but Reason applied to action; and the
emotion of self-reproach in reference to an unreasonable action, which
is the exact correlative of the feeling of incongruity which attaches
itself to a false proposition. Man is not a mere cognitive machine; he
has emotions of delight, which make him start from his seat {296} and
cry out εὕρηκα! at the naked perception of a purely speculative
truth, much more when he uses his reason on the most important acts
that concern the well-being of himself individually, and the society
of which he is a part. Let anything very good be done by his tribe, or
nation, or church, if he is a complete man he instantly flames up into
a noble enthusiasm, and becomes ambitious of attempting like deeds;
let anything very bad be done, he fumes, in grim indignation, or
blushes with shame, and is ready to reproach and to condemn, and even
to trample his proper self under foot. This is the most natural thing
in the world; the necessary result of applying reason to action at
all; for a man cannot act without motive power, that is, without
passions, which may be either noble or base. But though there is no
separate faculty called Conscience, there is a peculiar sensibility of
the soul in reference to moral action, when judgment is pronounced by
any individual on the character of any action which he has performed.
Self-condemnation, self-reproach, and, in their sharpest potency, what
are called the stings of remorse, are judgments of reason accompanied
by emotions, which well deserve a separate name; and just as for the
classical Latin _judicium_ when speaking of the fine arts, we now use
the peculiar word TASTE, so for our judgments of actions, with the
peculiar emotions which accompany them, we use the word CONSCIENCE.
It is not a new word; it is as old as Periander and Bias;[296.1] it
has been used {297} by both heathens and Christians for more than two
thousand years; and there is no reason why it should be abolished. The
ignoring of its compound character by incurious people can do no harm;
its analysis into practical reason and passion by the more curious can
do little good. When, on the other hand, it is declared generally to
be the mere product of association, a great deal of harm may be done;
for from this doctrine a consistent one-sided moralist may prove that
morals are the mere creatures of habit, fashion, fancy, and caprice,
as readily and with precisely the same warrant that Alison proved that
beauty is an accidental product of the same unreasoning elements. What
we ought to say is simply this--there is an enlightened conscience,
and there is an unenlightened conscience; neither of these can act
independently of associations; for associations supply the bonds by
which the materials of thought and feeling are bound into separate
parcels; but the difference is this: in the enlightened conscience
feelings and actions are bound together by associations over which
cultivated Reason has exercised a control; in the unenlightened
conscience, where the emotions connected with the performance of
certain actions are the crude product of all sorts of random
influences, it is natural that moral judgments should exhibit all
sorts of inadequacy, perversity, and absurdity. To a conscience so
constituted the neglect of a piece of insignificant silly ceremonial
may cause more pain than the commission of a murder.

As to the sophistical refinement that all our social sympathies are
fundamentally selfish, there can be no doubt that, under the influence
of that passion for unity which is the inspiration of system-builders,
{298} Hartley, after Hobbes, did common sense the dishonour of
publicly propounding this theory. But he propounded it, after his
fashion, in a very innocent way; in such a way indeed as to show that
the whole question arises out of a confusion of language, or, what is
worse, a studied affectation of using words in a different sense from
that in which they are used by the vulgar.[298.1] To the thinker this
is a matter of indifference; not so to the vulgar: they all insist in
using common words in their common sense, and allow the subtle
qualifications of the philosopher to drop. It is strange, however, to
observe that there are even at the present day writers of pith and
judgment who seem to imagine that there is something more than a mere
juggle of words in this question. Mr. Barrett, in his _Physical
Ethics_, an ingenious and thoughtful work, says that “the merit of
Hartley was not only that he showed the ultimate selfishness of all
motives, but that he saw the true subordination among the various
emotions, and their natural evolution from their simple elements.”
This sentence, by the simple abuse of a single word, does great
injustice to Hartley. The word _selfishness_, in the classical use of
the English language, is a word of a very bad odour; it is equivalent
to the φιλαυτία of the Greeks, and means that excessive regard
to self which leads a man to disregard and to disown the rights and
feelings of other selves in the complex social machine of which he is
a part. Now Hartley {299} does not use this word; he uses a word
capable also of a good meaning--_self-interest_, better still if he
had stumbled on Bentham’s phrase, _self-regard_. But as it is, the
ingenious association-moralist (i. 458) divides self-interest into
three species--

 _Gross self-interest_,
 _Refined self-interest_, and
 _Rational self-interest_,

which, when analysed, turn out to be altogether different things
baptized with the same name. If a rational self-interest convinces me
that, when I see my neighbour fall into the sea, it is my duty to jump
in after him at the risk of being drowned myself, it requires an open
force put upon language to say that such an action is the result of
any kind of deliberate self-regard; it seems more like the result of a
social instinct, and so far from being the product of any sort of
prudential calculation, it is more likely to be strangled in the first
conception than brought to a brilliant birth by the consideration of
self in any shape. It seems to me indeed quite unworthy of anything
styling itself philosophy to deal in such manifest quibbles. I might
in a similar way, for instance, classify all religions under a common
name, according as they are inspired by

 _Gross reverence_,
 _Refined reverence_, and
 _Rational reverence;_

but though the name is the same in all the three cases, the feeling
may be very different, and the {300} product altogether opposed; for
the gross reverence of vulgar superstition may be founded on fear,
while the rational reverence of enlightened piety may be based on
philosophic wonder and on that perfect love which casteth out fear.

Much less ingenious than Hartley as a speculator, but more distinct,
perspicuous, and effective as a writer, was Dr. PALEY, a man whose
position among the thinkers of the last century, though somewhat
dwarfed by the contemporary magnitude of Hume and Bentham, will ever
secure him an honourable place among the preachers of the Utilitarian
doctrine. As an author, he commanded a wider circle of intelligent
readers than any of his contemporaries who handled the same subjects;
he was a Churchman too, the only clergyman, so far as I know, among
the Utilitarian doctors; and the last of that school--Austin only
excepted[300.1]--who did not think it a disgrace but an honour to keep
on friendly terms with Christianity. The salient points of his moral
philosophy are four--Utility, the doctrine of Consequences, the Will
of God, and the Future life. Of the first, what remains to be said
will be said more opportunely when, in the next section, we shall have
to discuss Hume; the doctrine of Consequences a passing hint under
Bentham will dismiss; and for the other two points a few sentences may
suffice. “Virtue,” according to Paley, “is the doing good to
mankind in obedience to the will of God for the sake of everlasting
happiness.” {301} This definition characterizes the man, the book,
the age, the country, and the profession to which he belonged
admirably. It is a definition that, taken as a matter of fact, in all
likelihood expressed the feeling of nine hundred and ninety-nine out
of every thousand British Christians living in these islands in the
generation immediately preceding the French Revolution; still, it is a
definition which contains as many errors as it contains clauses. In
the first place, as to the doing good to mankind, it is a principle
which lies at the basis of the doctrine of Utility, and has its origin
doubtless not so much in modern anti-Christian systems as in the
prominence which Christianity gives to works of charity and
brotherly-kindness; than which practically of course there can be
nothing better, but as part of the definition of virtue in this place
it is faulty; for virtue of various kinds may be exercised where no
men exist to be the objects of our benevolence, as with Adam in
Paradise, and Robinson Crusoe in his desert island, and the poet
Campbell’s Last Man. Then as to the Will of God, that no doubt is a
power which overrules all; tides and tempests and thunderstorms must
obey that, and human life of course no less; but what constitutes the
Divine will, and how is it to be learned, in what way by the
Christian, and in what other way by the unbeliever? Properly speaking,
the will of God rather expresses the ultimate source of virtuous
conduct than furnishes a practical definition of its quality. Lastly,
as to the everlasting happiness, this is the greatest blunder of the
three. It may no doubt be very true under the relations in which it
was spoken, that “if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are
of all men {302} most miserable:” that was a sentence which applied
with the most vivid pointedness to St. Paul and to many others in
similar circumstances; but it is very far from furnishing a warrant
for the general proposition that the sure expectation of an
everlasting reward is a motive necessary for the existence of virtue
in this mortal life. For if this really were the case, either the
virtue of Socrates was no virtue at all, or a virtue far above the
standard of any Christian virtue according to Paley’s definition;
for Socrates died the death of a martyr with a very doubtful faith of
what might happen to him after death. But, in fact, the prospect of an
external reward is no part of any virtue, either Christian or
heathen,--rather in many cases would annihilate the very idea of
virtue. To give away ten pounds to-day with the sure expectation of
getting a thousand pounds for it to-morrow would be no act of
generosity. Aristotle says that a man is bound to be virtuous by the
distinctive law of his nature, whether he lives seventy years or seven
hundred years; and Christianity surely ought to say no less. It is
plain therefore that Dr. Paley was no great master of definitions.
Nevertheless he wrote a most useful practical book; such a book as
justly commended itself to the practical English mind; such a book as
might have been expected from the finished manhood of a young man of
whom when he went to college it had been said by his father, that
“he had by far the clearest head he had ever met with.” A clear
head unquestionably is a most useful quality in business and in daily
life, but a quality which of itself will not make a great philosopher,
or even a great man.

DAVID HUME, born at Edinburgh in the year {303} 1710, was older than
Dr. Paley by more than thirty years, though we have placed Paley
first, as with Locke and Hartley completing the band of decidedly
Christian Externalists. But in Hume we find the father of an
altogether new school, the real progenitor of that living sect of
philosophers whom the popular memory traces back no further than to
Bentham and James Mill. In him therefore we may reasonably expect to
find in one form or another all that came afterwards, some parts of
course less worked out and less consistent, but the whole more rich,
various, and complete; and, as in the case of Locke and Hartley, we
may probably have cause to rejoice that by a certain broad and
salutary inconsistency he saved himself from a narrow and pedantic
dogmatism. We shall not therefore err in calling him comparatively a
great man, but only comparatively; compared with the highest style of
men, great with first-rate position and constructive minds, he is not
great; he is only rich, various, and subtle. Nevertheless in respect
of those who followed him with kindred tendencies, his stature remains
unapproached. He is, as Emerson says of Plato, “a terrible destroyer
of originalities.” In the page of intellectual record he stands
unquestioned as the man who shook all the easy thinkers of an easy
century out of their easy seats with much observation; but there are
two ways of shaking people out of their seats--first in the manner of
an architect who pulls down a crazy old cabin in order that he may set
quarrymen, masons, plasterers, carpenters, painters, and other
artisans to work that they may erect a palatial structure in its
stead; secondly, in the manner of a strong Samson, who shakes the
pillars of some temple of Dagon, and buries himself {304} and all the
Philistines beneath its roof. That this is too much the manner of Hume
as a philosopher is obvious; only he does not actually die like
Samson, but gets himself paralysed for a moment, and then recovers
partially by virtue of that strong infection of common sense which, as
a Scotchman, he naturally had. We have called him a rich man; for
unquestionably his treatise on the Principles of Morals, perhaps on
the whole the best of his works, exhibits him as at once a subtle
thinker, a shrewd observer, and a graceful stylist, in a combination
as happy as it is rare. The man of the world is present here as well
as the philosopher; and perhaps the philosopher is not fully aware how
much the acceptance of his abstract speculations is due to his secular
shrewdness and his gentlemanly demeanour. But with all his wealth
there is a certain meagreness about Hume arising out of his ignorance
and entire misprision of the past. It is difficult for a man to write
well on morals with an entire disregard of Aristotle and Plato, and
with a fashionable Parisian contempt for the New Testament. No doubt
this was to a great extent the misfortune of the philosopher rather
than his fault; yet the fact remains, and cannot but weigh heavily
with all who would make a true estimate of the permanent value of his
contributions to ethical philosophy. In Hume’s time, as we have seen
above (p. 131), Aristotle had not yet recovered from the supposed
blows inflicted on him by Bacon--“his fame,” to use Hume’s own
language, “was utterly decayed;”[304.1] and as for Plato, St.
Paul, and St. John, our subtle Scotch David had no organ for them, and
could appreciate their excellence {305} as some kilted piper picked up
from Celtic games at Braemar might be expected to appreciate the
harmonies of Sebastian Bach. Greek certainly he had--the fruit of
private study in his riper years--more than usually falls to the lot
of Scottish philosophers; and what he had of that noble language he
knew how to use more effectively and with more grace and originality
than many English scholars with ten times his erudition; but in
reading his Principles of Morals I find no trace of any appreciation
of the work done by his great Hellenic predecessors; on the contrary,
I find the strange delusion possessing both him and Bentham that they
were commencing a new epoch, and doing for moral science what Newton
had done for physical, and what Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, not
to mention St. Paul and St John, had altogether failed to do. Hume’s
own view of his relation to the ancient moralists is distinctly stated
thus--“I found that the moral philosophy transmitted to us by
antiquity laboured under the same inconvenience that has been found in
their natural philosophy, of being entirely hypothetical and depending
more on invention than experience; every one consulted his fancy in
erecting schemes of virtue and happiness, without regarding human
nature, upon which every moral conclusion must depend.”[305.1] The
complacent conceit of this passage to a man who really knows the
ancient moralists, {306} is only less ludicrous than the benign
self-satisfaction which inspires the well-known overture to the
_Deontology_ of Bentham. And the conceit becomes the more ludicrous
when, in searching for this new principle which is to redeem ethics
from fancifulness and transport it into certainty, we find nothing but
the old Socratic formula:--

 Reason + sentiment = virtue = happiness.

Nay more; he defines this sentiment to be “an internal sense or
feeling which nature has made universal in the whole species.”
_Risum teneatis, amici?_ Here we have the innate ideas of Plato, one
part of them certainly, which Mr. Locke was supposed to have blown
into smoke. And afterwards, in language even more distinctly Platonic,
in the section “Why Utility Pleases,” he says, “Had nature made
no original moral distinctions independently of education,
distinctions founded on the original constitution of the mind, the
words _honourable_ and _shameful_, _lovely_ and _odious_, _noble_ and
_despicable_, had never had place in any language; nor could
politicians, had they invented those terms, ever have been able to
render them intelligible, or make them convey any idea to the
audience.” We see therefore in these passages plainly, that Hume was
by no means a thorough and consistent Externalist; he protests stoutly
against Hobbes and all who declare that there is naturally no
difference between men and tigers till the policeman introduced it;
and he does not seem to have approached Professor Bain’s conception,
that Conscience is always and everywhere modelled on the statute-book.
He agrees entirely with Socrates in assigning to love and the {307}
social affections--the τὰ φιλικά--as strong a sway in human
society as to the selfish principle. Here his common sense and his
knowledge of the world saved him signally from the perverse ingenuity
of Hartley. It will be observed through all his works, indeed, that
though he was fond of puzzling himself as a thinker, he had
fundamentally far more faith in the common instincts and feelings of
the great masses of men than in the conclusions of the metaphysicians.
“Nature,” he says wisely, “will always assert her rights, and
prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever;”[307.1]
while with regard to individual speculators he says, “It is easy for
a profound philosopher to commit a mistake in his subtle reasonings,
and one mistake is the necessary parent of another, while he pushes on
his consequences, and is not deterred from embracing any conclusion by
its unusual appearance or its contradiction to common sense.”[307.2]
And accordingly he makes no scruple of shelving the whole theory of
the Ethics of Selfishness by the single sentence that it “seems to
have proceeded entirely from that love of simplicity which has been
the source of much false reasoning in philosophy.”[307.3] What then
have we to lay hold of as distinctively Humian? Hitherto all is mere
Socrates. A well-disciplined reason and a well-educated natural
instinct of benevolence acting together for the public weal.--This is
Utility; this is Hume; this is Socrates also, and Aristotle; for these
great ancient thinkers had the εὐδαιμονία and the ὠφέλιμον in their
eye and on their tongue as {308} much as any modern Utilitarian. Where
then lies the differentiating element of this great progenitor of the
most modern school? The difference, we must reply, is partly
imaginary, arising out of the gross misconception of the character of
ancient philosophy, transparent in all the writings of the
Utilitarians; partly real, in so far as the ancients, while
acknowledging Utility as a principle, kept Reason in the foreground,
while the moderns push Utility into the van, and use Reason only as an
instrument to make that point alone prominent. The modern Utilitarian
accordingly looks more to the consequences of the action, the ancient
Rationalist to the quality of the actor; but how this should be looked
upon as a great discovery in morals, or as tending in any way to the
elevation of human character or the regeneration of society, seems
difficult to understand. It rather appears to me that the prominence
thus given to the results of action has a tendency to turn the eye of
men away from the great work of purifying the sources of action, the
foulness of which is the constant cause of foul results; prudential
considerations will be very apt to obtain undue preponderance; and
everywhere, as Lecky observes, “the philosophy of sensation will be
found to be accompanied with the morals of interest.”

The extreme meagreness of the Utilitarian doctrine as thus produced
from the propositions of its great progenitor, is something so
remarkable that one is naturally driven to look about for some cause
that may have given artificial importance to a matter in itself so
insignificant; and this cause, so far as I can discover, lies nowhere
so much as in the general reaction against Christianity which
distinguished the {309} age of which Voltaire in France was the great
spokesman, Hume in Scotland, and Bentham in England. Reaction is the
universal law of all mundane forces: and it was not to be expected
that Christianity should escape it. Christian ethics being based
purely, as we have seen, on a regard to the will of God, on purity of
motive, and lofty self-sacrifice, even had they been left to work in
all their natural integrity, would have demanded a doctrine of moral
consequences to neutralize the necessary one-sidedness of their
action. To have a good conscience was a most excellent thing, but to
have a clean shirt was also a virtue. The Divine sanction given by
Christian piety to Christian morals was naturally beneficial, but it
was also possible, or rather from human weakness almost certain, that
the science of human ethics might lose as much as it gained from
alliance with Christian theologians, who are only too apt to “bend
every branch of knowledge to their own purposes, without much regard
to the phenomena of nature, or to the unbiassed sentiments of the
mind.”[309.1] Add to this the tawdry mummeries of ritualism, the
insolence of haughty churchmen, the gross worldliness of fat
beneficiaries, the morbid sanctitude of pietistical devotees, the
unnatural austerities of monkish ascetics, and the grim severity of
damnatory dogmatists, and we shall easily understand how a revulsion
should have taken place, which would not be content till on the throne
of morals it had supplanted Christ by Socrates, and Socrates by
Epicurus. And this consideration opens up to us the second notable
achievement of the subtle Scot in the important field of morals. Not
content with {310} withdrawing virtue as much as possible from the
region of personal sentiment into the wider domain of social
wellbeing, he determined to strike at the root of the whole evil, as
it appeared to him, by not only attacking Christianity, but by
undermining that primary idea of CAUSALITY on which the idea of
religion and the very conception of a God reposes. This was a daring
business no doubt; but Hume was not the man to take things of that
nature overseriously; he would keep himself quite easy as to results;
he would not make himself miserable by any unnecessary enthusiasm even
for his own philosophy;[310.1] if he did not choke the Church-doctors,
he would at least give them something to chew; and at all events he
might effect a permanent divorce between human ethics and that
sectarian theology to which it had been so unpropitiously yoked.

The foundation of this monstrous doctrine of ATHEISM is laid by our
subtle Scotch Epicurus in the following way. In his chapter entitled
“Sceptical Doubts,” speaking of the origin of our ideas of _cause
and effect_, he says, “When we find that any particular objects are
constantly conjoined with each other, as the communication of motion
by one billiard-ball to another, this knowledge arises entirely from
_experience_, and is not a matter of _à priori_ reasoning.” Again:
“The effect in this and in every case is totally different from the
cause; the conjunction of every effect with its cause must appear
arbitrary; every effect is in fact a distinct event from its cause.
Hence we may discover the reason why no philosopher who is rational
and modest has ever pretended {311} to assign the ultimate cause of
any natural operation, or to show distinctly the action of that power
which produces any single effect in the universe. The ultimate springs
or principles productive of natural phenomena are totally shut up from
human curiosity and inquiry.” Then in the next section he goes on to
argue against the legitimacy of the common postulate of all scientific
thought, that “similar sensible qualities proceed from similar
secret powers.” “All that experience can do is to show us a number
of uniform effects resulting from certain objects, and to teach us
that those particular objects at that particular time were endowed
with such powers and forces.” After this, in the chapter entitled
“Sceptical Solution of Sceptical Doubts,” he lays it down that
since our belief that similar effects imply similar causes does not
depend on reasoning, the only, “principle on which it depends is
Custom or Habit.” In fact, “All inferences from experience are the
effect of CUSTOM, not of REASONING.” Cause means only “customary
conjunction.” Then, towards the conclusion of the same chapter, he
says, “There is a kind of pre-established harmony between the course
of nature and the succession of our ideas; and though the Powers and
Forces by which the former is governed be wholly unknown to us, yet
our thoughts and conceptions have still, we find, gone on in the same
train with the other works of nature. CUSTOM is that principle by
which this correspondence has been effected.” Cognate with these
chapters on Causation are some discussions that follow on the idea of
power or necessary connexion, in which he maintains that this idea is
not copied either from the observation of the operation of forces
{312} in the external world or in the world of volition within us;
that in all cases what we know is only “the frequent CONJUNCTION of
objects, not their connexion;” “all events seem entirely loose and
separate; and at bottom we have no idea of connexion or power at all,
and these words are absolutely without any meaning;” and,
philosophically expressed, “the sentiment or impression from which
we form the idea of power or necessary connexion,” is only “the
customary transition of the imagination from one object to its usual
attendant.” And so “we may define a CAUSE to be one object
followed by another, and where all the objects similar to the first
are followed by objects similar to the second.” Lastly, to crown
this whole elaborate edifice of Scottish atheism, we have, in the
chapter on “Providence and a Future State,” the following
sentences:--“When we infer any particular cause from an effect, we
must proportion the one to the other, and can never be allowed to
ascribe to the cause any qualities but what are exactly sufficient to
produce the effect. Allowing, therefore, the gods to be the Authors of
the existence or order of the universe, it follows that they possess
that precise degree of power, intelligence, and benevolence which
appears in their workmanship; but nothing further can be proved. The
supposition of further attributes is mere hypothesis.” This argument
is levelled against the perfection of the Divine workmanship and
attributes. He then proceeds to annihilate, as he conceives, the
Socratic argument from design in the following fashion:--“If you saw
a half-finished building, surrounded with heaps of brick and stone and
mortar, and all the instruments of masonry, {313} you might justly
infer from this effect that it was a work of design and contrivance;
and in reference to works of human art this reasoning is good, because
_man is a being whom we know by experience_. But the case is not the
same with our reasonings from the works of Nature. The Deity is known
to us only by his productions, and is a single Being in the universe
not comprehended under any species or genus, from whose experienced
attributes or qualities we can by analogy infer any attribute or
quality in him. The method of reasoning which we legitimately use in
reference to the intentions and projects of men, can never have place
with regard to a Being so remote and incomprehensible, who bears much
less analogy to any other being in the universe than the sun does to a
wax taper, and who discovers himself only by some faint traces or
outlines, beyond which we have no authority to ascribe to him any
attribute or perfection.”

We have been at pains to transcribe these articulate sentences
verbatim, selected from a sweep of some hundred pages of the Essays,
because they really contain all that can be said in justification or
palliation of that sort of positive or negative atheism which has
recently been haunting the intellectual atmosphere of Europe, and
poisoning the sources of social morality. Let us now see what they
amount to.

In the first place, then, with regard to the general source of all our
knowledge of matters of fact, it is quite certain we gain such
knowledge only from experience; but this of course does not mean
merely external experience of external objects. Whatever exists, the
thinking I that is capable of taking cognisance {314} of objects, no
less than the objects cognised, are known only by experience, could
not be known otherwise. A thing must exist in order that it may be
known to exist. Nothing is known by mere abstract reasoning
independent of existence. If it be said that mathematics are so known,
the answer is, that mathematics imply the existence of a thinker, and
the existence of laws of thinking, and further, that the objects of
mathematical science are thoughts, not existences, mere hypothetical
conditions and arbitrary limitations of space and time. We are not
therefore entitled to start with a presumption that whatever is not
known by abstract reasoning falls under the category of mere accident
or custom; in the wide range of what we know by experience some things
may be accidental or customary, many things may be necessary; what
things are absolutely necessary the Supreme Cause alone may know; but
that customary conjunction is not a sufficient explanation of the
order of phenomena which we admire in the outer or inner world, human
reason may be quite strong enough without hesitation to assert. For,
let us inquire how the idea of CAUSE arises. According to Mr. Hume
it is nonsense; it is merely another word for custom; a constant
custom is a cause. Now, according to the general sense of mankind in
all ages, and the use of all languages,--a consent and a use to which
Mr. Hume himself, as we have seen, in another place attaches the
utmost importance,--while the inconstancy of a custom, by introducing
the idea of whim and caprice, excludes the notion of a cause, at least
of a cause which falls under the category of science, a constant
custom is the very thing which naturally suggests the question, What
{315} is the cause of this constancy? It is therefore something
different from the constancy; and whether discoverable or not, is not
to be confounded with the existence of that thing, or series of
things, of which it is required as the explanation. Take an example.
I see a certain person pass along the street before my window every
morning at a quarter before nine o’clock, and another person
following him regularly at ten minutes before nine. Here is a
customary conjunction. If it happened once, or even twice, I should
ask no questions, it might have been what men call accidental; but it
has happened every day for six months, and I ask the cause. Am I wrong
in doing so? Is there no cause? Or do I give a sufficient answer when
I say it is a customary conjunction, or an invariable sequence? The
invariability of the sequence, so far from offering any explanation of
the cause, is the very thing that suggests it. I insist on believing
that this invariability has a cause, and that it is neither an
accident nor a custom. Of course it may be possible that I shall not
be able to find out the cause; but that there is a cause I believe as
firmly as that two and two are four. Now why am I entitled to demand a
cause here, or in the case of any such conjunction? and what do I mean
by it? I mean something that has an inherent and necessary virtue to
produce effect; and I am entitled to make the demand, just because I
am a reasonable being, and because the exercise of reason has proved
to me directly that invariable sequences are not produced except by
the persistent application of some calculated force of which
energizing reason is the source. I know by experience that whenever
this presidency of reason is abolished, the {316} world in which I
move instantly becomes a chaos; and the living unity of that mind
which I exercise in thinking, and which brings its own unity into the
wide sphere of my thoughts, feelings, and actions, displays to me in
the most direct way that the unity of plan between the different
members of an invariable sequence can proceed only from that of which
plan and unity can be predicated, viz., REASON. I derive my notion
of cause therefore primarily from the most direct and certain of all
sources, from my own existence; and if Mr. Hume objects that I do not
know how my mind acts on my body, or how my limb does not follow my
will in the case of palsy in the motor nerves, this ignorance does not
in the least shake my conviction that a cause is something different
from a custom; a piston or a paddle may be deranged, but the steamboat
is moved by a cause nevertheless, and that cause is twofold,--the
steam, and the mind of James Watt. These conclusions with regard to
the works of man even Mr. Hume seems to regard as perfectly
justifiable; for, like all puzzle-headed paradox-mongers, he is forced
to forget his own distinctions, and to speak of a cause after all, as
something different from a custom. We are justified, therefore, in
finding in the energizing reason of man a cause, and the only
sufficient cause, for the reasonable works of man. But it is
different, you say, with the works of God. Different unquestionably in
some respects; as the ocean, for example, is different from a drop of
salt water, or the sun, as you say, from a wax taper, or a scuffle
between two Irishmen at a fair from a great battle betwixt Prussia and
France. Let it be so. There is an immense difference in magnitude
betwixt man and God, betwixt {317} the works of man and the works of
God. Still that will not make a gulf sufficiently large to prevent
mutual recognition. A drop of salt water, the chemist will tell you,
contains every element that makes the mighty ocean a salt ocean, and
not a fresh-water lake. The smallest spark from the largest
conflagration is an affair of the same oxygen gas; and petty
differences in the management of the smallest borough in Great Britain
are the result of the same play of vanities, jealousies, stupidities,
and spites that provoke the greatest wars on the battle-field of
Europe. We shall therefore not be deterred by the magnitude of the
Creator’s works from recognising the excellence of their cause; we
shall rather feel the more occasion to sing with the royal Hebrew
psalmist, “_How excellent in all the earth, Lord, our Lord, is Thy
name!_” No doubt there is another difference that separates human
work from Divine. The work of God is vital work, ours is mechanical,
mere puppetry, all the motive forces of which are borrowed from the
exhaustless batteries of the Divine electricity. But this is only
another reason for wondering with so much the more admiration, and
worshipping with so much the more fervour. How healthy-minded, how
noble, and how sublime, in reference to this matter, does that grand
old Hebrew singer appear, with the flaming wings of his devout Muse,
compared with this peeping Scotch metaphysician, keeping himself
jealously free from the contagion of all intellectual enthusiasm, and
discovering in this glorious universe only “some faint traces and
outlines” of a self-existent Reason, enough to lead a man into
puzzles but not to lift him into hymns! Truly a sorry spectacle! They
will not {318} worship God, forsooth, these philosophers, because they
do not know Him exactly as they know the machinery of their watches,
because they do not see Him with their carnal eyes, because they
cannot lay their fingers on Him. Well, let me ask them, Does any man
see any man? Can any man put his finger upon me, or you, upon that
which is properly called me and you? No; he sees only the man as
revealed in his flesh, as manifested in his works. His soul looks
through the windows of his eye; and his eye directs his hand where to
strike. We believe in the man; we do not see him. If his works are
full of order and beauty and purpose, we conclude that the man is
reasonable; if they are mere disorder, ugliness, and haphazard, we
conclude he is unreasonable. Not otherwise with our knowledge of God.
“No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see.” Creation is the
face of God; the sun is the eye of God. Everywhere I see Him in his
works radiant with reason, instinct with soul. I know Him as a child
knows his father, as the shepherd’s dog knows the shepherd, as a
common soldier knows the great projector of the campaign, though he
may never have seen him. I may not comprehend many of His movements
(it would be a strange thing if I did), I may not understand much of
that which most nearly concerns myself; but this necessary inadequacy
of my finite faculty shall not prevent my acknowledgment, my loyalty,
and my obedience. I know enough of God always to inspire wonder and to
annihilate criticism; and this is my highest human wisdom.

So much for the poor sceptical bewilderment of the celebrated David
Hume; into which den of dust {319} and cobwebs I certainly should not
have strayed in this discourse, had experience not taught me that to
deny God in the macrocosm necessarily leads to the denial of Mind in
the microcosm, and to deny mind in man is to disown morality, or at
least to stanch it in its principal well-head, and to poison the
purest of its fountains. In forming a judgment of his character,
however, we must not insist upon applying to him all the logical
consequences of his own arguments. That his philosophy is speculative
atheism is quite certain. By “emptying the idea of causation of its
efficiency,” to use Professor Ferrier’s language,[319.1] “that
is, of the element which constitutes its essence, he not only denied
God, but he struck a blow which paralysed man’s nature in its most
vital function;” he was not however consistently and thoroughly an
atheist; as a Scot he had too much sense to remain in his practical
moments entangled in the unsubstantial tissue of sophistry and cobwebs
which he had spun for himself in speculation, and his want of piety
was a defect of sentiment rather than a revolt of reason.[319.2] We
must remember also charitably, that he lived in a flat age, when it
was always impossible for a man to be truly great. A little moral
earnestness, of which the eighteenth century had nothing to give him,
would have saved him from a great part of the barren subtlety which
disfigures so many pages of his otherwise sagacious, pleasant, and
profitable works. When we observe that as the prophet of that age he
was in everything acute rather than strong, that in his literary
tastes {320} he preferred Sophocles to Shakespeare, Epicurus to Plato,
Lucian to the Apostle Paul, and Leo X. to Martin Luther, we shall not
be surprised to find his moral treatise tainted with the notion that
Christian virtue always means asceticism, and that religion is only a
more respectable name for superstition. Pity only that in the present
age some persons should be forward to use his arguments who have not
the excuse of his position.

We have now finished our notice of those who are entitled to be called
the founders of the Utilitarian school; those who follow, as the mere
inheritors of principles already largely discussed, need not detain us
long. Of these by far the most distinguished unquestionably is
Bentham; so distinguished indeed, as in popular estimate to be
accounted, the founder of the school. But there is need of a
distinction here. Those men found a school in the proper sense who
teach the principles which it acknowledges; but in another sense he
founds it who applies those principles to practice. In the first
sense, the founders of the ethical doctrine which we are considering
were Locke, Hartley, and Hume; in the other sense, Bentham. His glory
lies not so much in expounding as in applying principles; he is a
lawyer and a politician rather than a philosopher. Not however that he
did not give himself the airs of a philosopher; this he did with
observation, and was accepted by his disciples accordingly. Therein
lay the mistake. It is not every man, not even every great man, who
knows how to recognise the limits which nature has laid down to the
exercise of his faculty. Napoleon the Great, in the pride of imperial
command, overlooked the moral forces that {321} lay slumbering in the
heart of the people, and was punished by a three days’ cannonade at
Leipzig, the prelude to his final chastisement at Waterloo. Jeremy
Bentham, because he could tabulate Acts of Parliament with the
astuteness of a barrister, the purity of a philanthropist, and the
comprehensiveness of a statesman, conceited himself throned on a moral
eminence from which he might look down with contempt on Plato and
Socrates, and all the great moral teachers of the past. In the third
chapter of the first volume of _Deontology_, or _Doctrine of Duty_, we
read, “While Xenophon was writing history, and Euclid giving
instruction in geometry, Socrates and Plato were talking nonsense
under pretence of teaching wisdom. This morality of theirs consisted
in words,--this wisdom of theirs was the denial of matters known to
every man’s experience, and the assertion of other matters opposed
to every man’s experience. And exactly in the proportion in which
their notions on this subject differed from those of the mass of
mankind, exactly in that proportion were they below the level of
mankind.” Such an exhibition of ignorance, insolence, and
impertinence as this in a man of undoubted genius, were truly
inexplicable, did we not bear in mind that genius even of the very
highest kind is often accompanied by a very decided one-sidedness; and
more than that, there were in the circumstances of Bentham’s life
not a few things that tended to raise to a maximum the dogmatism with
which he was naturally endowed. He is by no means a solitary example
of a great man, the sublime of whose excellence has been turned into
the ridiculous for lack of a little Christian humility. {322} “Who
is that young man who discourses on all subjects with such a wealth of
resources?” said a distinguished guest at Worcester to Bishop
Stillingfleet one day after dinner. “That is my chaplain, sir,”
replied the Bishop; “Bentley is his name--Richard Bentley--a very
remarkable man, a man of gigantic learning, and who might be the
greatest man in Europe, had he only a little modesty.” Young Bentham
had the misfortune to be a spoiled child--and not without cause, for
he was by no means a common boy; his intellectual and moral endowments
were both rare; this was the good gift of God; but he was brought up
as a prodigy; this was the great blunder of his parents. Nor was the
blunder mended when at a remarkably early age he was sent to Oxford.
Public schools and colleges are often admirable institutions for
teaching young men to find their level, but it was not so with
Bentham; he had the misfortune to be born in a flat century, and fell
among flat people. Everything that he saw in the great seat of English
learning tended rather to pamper than to prune his conceit. He could
write Latin verses as well as the best of them; but he rightly judged
that at this time of day, in reference to the highest demands of a
rational culture, this sort of exercise is at best a very pretty kind
of trifling, and anything better did not grow there at that time. He
seems to have got a taste of Aristotle’s Logic--that was part of the
academical routine,--but he had logic enough in his own brain, and
could not be expected to reap much benefit from any barren
exercitations of a school-book. Logic is useful only as a flail, when
it gets corn to thresh from other quarters; of itself it is utterly
{323} unfruitful. Into the real gist and marrow of Aristotle and Plato
it does not appear he ever entered, nor amongst the tutors of his
college did any one offer a manuduction into these intellectual
penetralia; it was the age of elegant grammarians and low churchmen;
and when the Articles were duly subscribed and the Latin verses
properly turned off, there seemed nothing more in prospect for the
academical mind but port wine and chapel service, and, in pleasant
summer weather, a little languid activity on the bowling-green. But
this was not the sort of nutriment which could feed the fine spirit of
a young Bentham, whose food was mere intellectual truth, and his drink
pure human love. He had been born in a Tory family; he was bred in a
Tory college; he had been kidnapped (to his life-long horror) to sign
the Articles of a Tory Church; but from all this Toryism the best part
of his nature had received no nourishment. The consciousness grew, and
one day burst out with a flash upon him, that Toryism was selfishness:
that the British people, in common with himself, were lying languid
and downtrodden, and rotting beneath the selfish dominance of an
oligarchy, an oligarchy perhaps the most powerful that the history of
the world knew; for as he knew it, it certainly seemed fourfold,--an
oligarchy of pedants, an oligarchy of priests, an oligarchy of
lawyers, and an oligarchy of peers. Against all this the spirit of
young Bentham, as courageous as it was pure, rebelled. He would pull
it all down; though he stood alone in the world, like Plato’s just
man, he would pull it all down. And so he set himself valiantly to
protest against the oligarchy of pedants, founded on a blind reverence
{324} for the letter of dead books; against the oligarchy of priests,
founded on the real desire of power and the pretended admiration of an
ascetic morality; against the oligarchy of lawyers, who strangled the
rights of the present by the fictions of the past; against the
oligarchy of peers, which in the government of the State preferred the
interests of the favoured few to the happiness of the neglected many.
And the issue was that young Bentham returned from Oxford, not to
prosecute his legal studies at one of the Inns of Court, and advance
himself to a position of wealth and honour by practising the curious
art of giving a reasonable face to the most unreasonable of fictions,
but as an armed apostle of intellectual, moral, juridical, and
political democracy, and full of that sort of sacred fury which
inspired the French democrats when they looked forward to a speedy
millennium as the time “when the last king should be strangled with
the bowels of the last priest.”

The state of feeling here sketched is the only thing that, in my
opinion, can afford a satisfactory explanation of the extraordinary
one-sidedness and dogmatism of Bentham’s moral philosophy. It was
the creature of a reaction; and such a reaction as is apt to exhibit
itself most emphatically in the case of the most highly-gifted young
men, who however sometimes, as increasing years bring extension of
view, contrive to work their way to some Aristotelian mean point which
permits the recognition of two opposite truths. But such was not the
nature of Bentham. He worshipped the great goddess Consistency, and
could see and work only in a straight line. To his dicta there was no
limitation, any more than to those {325} of the Pope; he held himself
practically infallible. So the first thing that he determined to do
was to re-establish the Epicurean doctrine that “Pleasure is the
chief good;” for “Epicurus,” he expressly says, “was the only
one among the ancients who had the merit of having known the true
source of morality.”[325.1] After this we need inquire no further.
The novelty of this sentence is too dear a price to pay for its
manifest error in elevating a species into the dignity of a genus, and
for its manifest danger in stamping that which is highest in human
nature with a label familiarly used to mark what is lowest. The great
ancients whom Bentham despised made εὐδαιμονία or happiness
the genus; and this happiness, they said, one class of men sought to
attain by ἡδονὴ or PLEASURE, another class by striving after
the τὸ ἀγαθὸν or the GOOD. This language, founded on the
healthy instincts of human nature, the apostles of Christianity
sanctioned with their authority when they talked of persons being
“lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God;” and to the present
hour “a man of pleasure” is a phrase familiarly used in the
English language to express one of the most trifling, contemptible,
and useless members of society. And the reason of this use of language
is obvious. Pleasure and Good, so far from being of a kindred nature,
are generally directly opposite; no doubt they both produce enjoyment,
but the enjoyment in the one case is often passive, in the other
always active; in the one case generally shunning difficulty, in the
other rather provoking it; of the former the senses are the main
organ, of the latter the reason; the sensuous enjoyment man has in
common with a {326} pig, the rational only as a man. It was therefore
a strange service that Bentham assumed himself to have done to moral
philosophy by confounding the poles of moral distinction; and his
conduct can only be palliated, not justified, by the tendency of every
reaction to swing itself into an extreme. Any peculiar provocation in
Bentham’s time calling upon him to reinstate the gospel of the flesh
in the rights of which it had been deprived by St. Paul, one does not
exactly see. Whatever faults he might have discovered in the morality
of the clerical exclusives, purple doctors, and minute grammarians of
Oxford, asceticism certainly was not one; feastings rather than
fastings were the order of the day among the Dons; there remains,
therefore, only the puerile delight of using a strong phrase, to
palliate this gross confusion of the received terminology of moral
science which he introduced. As for any other principles of morality
that Bentham might have, they were merely what every other body had
always professed. It did not require Hume, or any other sceptical
solver of sceptical doubts, to teach mankind that Benevolence was
naturally a good thing, and that no virtues were true virtues which
did not tend to the public good. It happened therefore to Bentham, as
it had happened to other promulgators of new gospels,--that what was
most new in his system was least true, and what was most true was
least new. The doctrine that Pleasure is the chief good, and that
Epicurus was a better philosopher than Aristotle, will scarcely now,
we apprehend, be seriously maintained; while, on the other hand, the
maxim, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” has always
been the war-cry by which the most generous politicians have {327}
been roused, and the load-star by which the most far-seeing statesmen
have been guided. It is not, indeed, in the kingdom of ethics,
strictly so called, that Bentham’s merit is to be sought; specially
rather in the outlying fields of jurisprudential and legislative
economy, where that doctrine of consequences justly sways, which Paley
erroneously sought to make regulative in the region of personal
purpose, pure motive, and noble deed; and for his services in applying
his favourite maxim to various departments of political, juridical,
and social reform, the world can scarcely be sufficiently grateful It
is not often that so pure a philanthropist enters with victorious axe
and mattock into domains bristling so rankly with all sorts of
professional prejudice and professional selfishness. In this domain
let him be loved as a man, reverenced as a patriarch, and even
worshipped as a saint--(he was a saint in his own peculiar way
unquestionably); but let him not be lifted into Christian pulpits or
academic chairs to indoctrinate the ingenuous youth of this country in
a curious moral arithmetic how to maximize pleasure and to minimize
pain. Not by such teaching, certainly, were heroes wont to be made in
Sparta, in Athens, or in Rome.

With Bentham the edifice of Utilitarianism is complete, and there is
little more to say about the matter. Those who came afterwards were
expositors, not founders; they employed themselves in explaining the
doctrines of their master, sometimes also in explaining them away;
for, while bound to maintain the honour of the sect, they were
sometimes dimly conscious and more than half ashamed of the base
element out of which it sprang. One {328} of their foremost spokesmen
was JAMES MILL, the father of the present distinguished logician and
politician, John Stuart Mill. This gentleman, who is much respected by
the school to which he belongs, in the year 1829 published a work
entitled _An Analysis of the Human Mind_. This treatise I have read
carefully, and am constrained to say that it appears to me an
extremely meagre production; somewhat as if the mind of the author had
been blasted and frosted by the arid and sharp east wind in the face
of which--near Montrose--he was born. From his life it would appear
that he studied at the University of Edinburgh in the days of the
great metaphysical school there, and that he devoted considerable
attention to Plato. I have not the slightest reason to believe that
the great idealist was much known even to the best thinkers in our
Scottish metropolis at that time; but if Mill did study Plato
thoroughly, it must have been, as Grote has done in our time, for the
purpose of not understanding him. Certainly in his book I have found
nothing but the materialistic side of Locke and Hartley worked out
into a monstrosity; a cold thin horror of all spiritual mystery, and
the shallow conceit that the primary divine force, which we call
MIND, can be explained by a laboriously minute dissection of a
merely physical machinery. Whatever that great juggler Association can
be made to do in order to explain knowledge out of sensation, mind out
of matter, and unity generally out of multiplicity, has been done in
this book. For the special ethics of Utilitarianism there is nothing
in James Mill that the student of Hume and Bentham will be likely to
think worth remembering.

{329}

Among living thinkers there is none who stands before the public more
prominently as the exponent of the Utilitarian ethics than JOHN
STUART MILL.[329.1] But whatever may be the merits of this
distinguished writer in the domain of logic, politics, and economics,
which seem most cognate to his genius, there can be little doubt in
the minds of thoughtful persons that his book on Utilitarianism has
done more to undermine than to sustain the doctrine which it professes
to expound. And the reason of this lies in a cause which is not less
condemnatory of the doctrine than it is complimentary to its champion.
Mr. Mill is too good a man to be the consistent advocate of a system
which, as compared with other systems, is fundamentally bad. He is too
earnest an apostle of the real moral progress of man to be a
thoroughgoing disciple of a school whose natural element is Epicurean
ease, sensual indulgence, and prudential calculation. His heart
revolted against the degrading tendency of a philosophy which gave a
primary importance only to what is low, and left the highest elements
of human nature to make a respectable show before men with a borrowed
and secondary vitality. But at the same time, he was a disciple of the
school, and the son of his father, and thus by education and a sort of
intellectual heritage, his head was committed to a doctrine for which
his heart was naturally a great deal too good. The consequence was a
sort of sophistry which, while we see through it, we cannot but
admire. Departing from the original idea of his school, that pleasure
is the only good, and that pleasures differ from one another only in
intensity, he interpolates into {330} the general idea of quantity of
happiness the discriminating element of quality; and thus is thrown
back virtually on those innate ideas which it is the characteristic
boast of his school to have discarded. For the essential difference in
the quality of high and low pleasures is not a matter to be proved by
any external induction, but springs directly out of the intellectual
and emotional nature of man, asserting its own innate superiority
precisely as light asserts itself over darkness, and order over
confusion. And thus, while he defends Utilitarianism successfully, so
far as results go, he succeeds only by throwing overboard all that is
most distinctive in the doctrine, and adopting secretly all that is
most peculiar to the teaching of his opponents. In ancient times,
between Epicureanism and Stoicism there was a distinct and well-marked
line of demarcation, which, whether in speculation or in practice, no
person could miss; now under Mr. Mill’s manipulation, this
distinction vanishes; the love of pleasure with which he started is
sublimated into the love of virtue, and an ideal enthusiasm for the
greatest possible happiness of all sentient creatures is substituted
for the real and direct stimulus of pleasure which every man
understands; and a Joseph Mazzini consecrating his whole life with the
most intense enthusiasm and the most severe self-denial to the ideal
of a possible Italian republic, is as much an Epicurean as David Hume
sneering at all enthusiasm, and pleasing his soul with the delicate
flatteries of fair dames in a Parisian saloon. This is to confound all
things, and to reduce the whole affair to a fence of words rather than
to a battle of principle. Nor need we be surprised at such a result;
for the whole platform of morality in {331} modern times has been so
elevated through the influence of Christianity that Epicureanism to
win a hearing is constrained to profess a standard which shall not
fall beneath that laid down in the Sermon on the Mount or in the 13th
chapter of 1st Corinthians; and to do this with nothing but the
individual selfish love of pleasure to start with, requires, it may be
imagined, a very considerable amount of dialectic jugglery and
shifting glamoury of words. One is forced to explain--keeping
Bentham’s language--how the original, individual, and personal love
of pleasure, which is and must be selfishness, manages from mere
external considerations, for such only are left open by the deniers of
innate ideas, to take the shape of benevolence. Like theologians who
are bound to stick to an unreasonable creed, and yet, to save its
credit, must make it appear reasonable, the Utilitarians, in striving
to accommodate the principles of the lowest theory of morals to the
demands of the highest, have not escaped the awkwardness of the
strategist who, while making a real retreat, plays off some movements
that look like an advance. Only in this case the strategist knows that
he is deceiving his soldiers, and deceiving the enemy; whereas the
logician who dexterously assumes a new position while seeming to
maintain his old one is the happy victim of his own fallacies. He has
changed front by a manœuvre which many persons may be too stupid to
observe, and he has saved himself from the disagreeableness of a
formal recantation. Such dexterous shifts are the convenient refuge of
all one-sided theorists who insist on taking nature to school, and
trimming human souls, like trees in a fruit-garden, after their {332}
own favourite pattern. Meanwhile nature goes on heaving up her strong
moralities from original pure fountains, regardless alike of the
intense one-eyed dogmatism of the founders of ethical schools, and the
ingenious apologies of their disciples, and makes preachers, as she
makes poets, by inspiration, not by induction.

After J. S. Mill, the only other living champion of the Utilitarian
school who demands special notice here is Professor BAIN. This
subtle, various, and accomplished writer, while agreeing with Hume and
Mill in reverting to the old Socratic principle of original benevolent
instincts in man, and thus denying pure externalism in one important
part of the human soul, is nevertheless upon the whole a much more
thorough-going and consistent externalist than Mr. Mill; so thorough,
indeed, as not to have hesitated to assert, in the most unqualified
language, that conscience in the breast is a mere reflection of the
external model in the statute-book, instead of the statute-book being,
as the Idealists teach, a very fragmentary and inadequate projection
from the moral pattern in a normal conscience. This revival of Hobbism
in one of its extreme forms is not likely to meet with much acceptance
in a country where the popular conscience, from long centuries of
combined Christian and chivalrous culture, has attained a very high
degree of refined sensibility; and the numerous admirers of Mr. Mill,
who are grateful to that gentleman for the skill with which he has
disposed the ethics of Empiricism in the drapery of Idealism, will
scarcely be thankful to Mr. Bain for presenting their pet system in
the naked prose of its early cradle. The acute northern professor
would certainly have {333} been more consistent, though less amiable,
if he had asserted in its broadest form the Hobbesian doctrine of an
original war of all against all; and he would have found no greater
difficulty in evolving from the primeval tiger a Xavier or a Howard,
than others have found in elevating the primeval monkey into a Newton
or La Place.

We have now concluded our proposed survey of the Utilitarian philosophy,
and the result may be summarily stated thus:--Utilitarianism generally
is a method of thinking which, while professing to clear up dim ideas,
brings confusion and disorder into every region of human thought and
action; and specially--

1. Which, by deriving thought from mere sensation, by deducing the one
from the many, instead of the many from the one, and thus reducing
mind to a mere blank impressibility, confounds the essential
distinction between necessary and contingent truth, and renders all
science impossible.

2. Which, by confounding causation with sequence, pulls up philosophy
by the roots, disembowels theology of all substance, and freezes the
breath of all natural piety.

3. Which, in the realm of the fine arts, for the harmonies and
congruities of eternal reason, substitutes the arbitrary associations
of ephemeral fashion, local habit, and individual conceit.

4. And which, in the all-important science of human life, degrades
morality from a manifestation of true expression, pure emotion, and
lofty purpose, into a low consideration and a slippery calculation of
external consequences.

This may seem perhaps a sufficiently condemnatory sentence; but it
does not by any means follow {334} that Utilitarianism has proved
utterly useless in the world, or that its power for good is exhausted.
It is only as a philosophy of human thought, feeling, and action that
it is weighed in the balance and found wanting; as an aspect of social
morals, and in the hands of good men like Bentham and Mill, as an
amiable half of moral truth giving itself out for the whole, it has
done good service in its day, and may be expected to do more. No man
certainly can quarrel with the zealous endeavour to promote the
greatest happiness of the greatest number, provided it be made clear,
in the first place, wherein human happiness and the true dignity of
human nature consists. And though thinking men abroad, who take a
cosmopolitan review of our insular sects and parties, will continue to
look upon Paleyism and Benthamism as only the natural rank product of
the unweeded garden of Locke’s empiricism, practical men in this
country, who are more politicians than philosophers, and more anxious
to reform their institutions than to remodel their thinking, will
continue to find in the Utilitarian principle a useful war-cry against
traditional abuses, and a motto of which no lover of his kind requires
to be ashamed. Scientific men also working correctly with Baconian
tools on the forces of the external world, may be ready to ally
themselves with a system of ethical philosophy which professes to make
no assumptions, to proceed by cautious induction, and to educe the
role of right not from dim feelings, flaming passions, and lofty
aspirations, but from statistical tables and other externalities that
can be felt and fingered. As a practical power, therefore, in this
country, Utilitarianism cannot be considered as extinct; on the {335}
contrary, the recent upheaval of the democratic element which Whigs
and Tories have conspired to produce, cannot but carry along with it,
for a season, the glorification of that maxim which so felicitously
seems to foretell the doom of all aristocratic privilege and
oligarchic abuse. To deal with men in one gregarious mass, counting
them only by units without respect to quality, seems characteristic no
less of Benthamite philosophy than of democratic policy; the element
of NUMBER is made prominent in both; and both seem to aim at a sort
of general level of social bliss which can be most easily attained by
taking the superfluities from the few and dividing them amongst the
many. The heretical and anti-theological tendencies of the age also,
will aid the Utilitarian movement; partly, no doubt, because
theologians have not always sufficiently considered that a clean
cottage is sometimes as necessary for the well-being of a people as a
clean conscience, and partly because those who find in the several
creeds of Christendom ground of moral offence, may not be unwilling to
welcome in the Utilitarianism of the present day an ethical system
which jealously shuns the contagion of piety, and scarcely with a cold
and distant reverence recognises God. But this manifest hostility to
religion which so characteristically separates the modern Utilitarian
writers from Locke and Hartley will in all probability be the first
thing that shall cause a salutary reaction against them. For religion
is as essential to human nature as poetry; and however violent men may
attempt to stamp it out, or supercilious men to overlook it, or meagre
men to deny it, it will always know to assert its own place, and ever
the more powerfully from the void which {336} its absence has
occasioned. With democracy, presenting as it does, from every point,
the most flattering appeals to individual self-importance, the masses
of men readily become intoxicated; but from absolute irreligion,
except in fits of social madness, they revolt, and stagger back from
the brink of the black abyss which it reveals. The difficulties of the
Church Articles may be removed by judicious pruning or happy
inoculation; but in Atheism there dwells no healing; it is sheer
emptiness and despair.

 [The End]



FOOTNOTES.

[1.1] See the splendid eulogy of the philosopher in J. S. Mill’s essay
“On Liberty.”

[1.2] See the famous sentence in the Deontology (vol. i.), which a
man to believe must have seen,--so gross is the amount of ignorance,
conceit, and dogmatism that it parades without a mask.

[26.1] The reader will not suppose that we have penned the above
sentences about the position and character of the Sophists without
having seriously weighed the evidence on the subject, and
especially without having taken into account the very able chapter
on Socrates and the Sophists in Grote’s History of Greece. On
the contrary, we have read that chapter carefully over several
times, and have on each occasion returned from the perusal with
the confirmed conviction that the learned author wrote it as a
special pleader rather than as an impartial historian, and that the
light in which he presents this important subject is essentially
false, and distorts, or rather inverts, the real position of the principal
figures in the picture. The main features in Grote’s account
of the matter are that the Sophists are a much calumniated class
of men; that Socrates was the head of that class, rather than their
antagonist; and that not the real facts of the case, but the imagination
of the transcendental Plato, and the caricatures of Aristophanes,
carelessly accepted as true history, have been the sources of modern
ideas on the subject. In all this we think Mr. Grote is decidedly
wrong, running counter at once to the inherent probabilities of the
case, and to the unhesitating and concurrent testimony of all
antiquity. The hollowness of the case of Mr. Grote has been shown
in detail by Mr. Cope in the Cambridge Philological Journal and by
myself in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh; so that
we may content ourselves here by simply stating what appears to be
the _rationale_ of the process by which the distinguished author of
the History of Greece was led into the maintenance of such an
untenable position. Now the influences which acted on the learned
historian’s mind in this matter seem reducible to three--(1.) Mr.
Grote is characteristically a polemical historian; from beginning to
end of his book he has in his eye, and is writing against, a class of
writers who had made it a business, in writing the history of Greece,
to write against the Athenian democracy, and through that, against
democracy in general. With such a literary mission, Mr. Grote, however
triumphant in the main, was constantly exposed to the strong
temptation of vindicating characters that had been previously abused,
and abusing those whose respectability had hitherto stood
unquestioned; (2.) In the course of his sweeping progress of knocking
down old ideals and setting up new ones, no figures were more likely
to call his chivalrous faculty of vindication into play than the
Sophists; for they were, as we have seen, the natural guides of the
lusty young democracy, and as such the special favourites of a
historian whose business it was to justify and glorify the Athenians
in all the characteristic phases of their social and political life.
And to a certain extent no doubt the distinguished historian was right
in maintaining that the antagonists of Socrates were not so black as
they had been painted by many, but represented a considerable element
of civic worth and respectability. But he was certainly not justified
in wiping out that antagonism altogether from the record,--an
antagonism which was just as marked in Athens as that more famous one
in Jerusalem four centuries later, between the Scribes and Pharisees
and the first preachers of the Gospel. The manner in which Mr. Grote
endeavours to confound Socrates with the herd of Sophists, from the
mere external resemblance of the weapons which they used, is unworthy
of a great historian. It was enough that such a confusion should have
blinded the eyes of the Athenian vulgar, and their great jest-maker
Aristophanes, without being made at this time of day to serve as a
serious vindication of the great mass of Sophistical teachers; but
(3.) Mr. Grote was led to elevate the Sophists, and so, comparatively,
to degrade their great antagonist, not only from his position as the
champion of Athenian democracy, but from his sympathy with the
philosophical principles of the Sophists, as opposed to those of
Socrates and Plato. These principles are those of the Sensational as
opposed to what is commonly called the Ideal or Intellectual
philosophy, the philosophy which gathers its conclusions exclusively
from what is external, while looking with suspicion on any categorical
intuitions, God-given instincts, or God-seeking aspirations that may
assert themselves from within. With this temper Mr. Grote is naturally
led to take the part of those ancient Greek teachers who held similar
principles; and these are to be found not on the side of Socrates,
Plato, and Aristotle, but on the side of Protagoras and the Sophists.
How strongly his speculative tendencies gravitate in this direction
the learned historian has amply shown in his book on Plato, a work in
which the reader will more readily find an eager and acute advocacy of
the adversaries of Plato than an intelligent and loving estimate of
the great idealist himself. In expounding Plato Mr. Grote put himself
pretty much in the same position that Voltaire would have done had he
undertaken to write a commentary on the Gospel of John. It is not
enough, in order to see a thing, that a man have sharp eyes; he must
have a soul behind the eye, to teach him both what is to be seen, and
what it signifies when it is seen.

[32.1] See the singular dialogue with Theodote, afterwards mistress
of Alcibiades, in the _Memorabilia_.

[42.1] Professor Grote says--“Law is the public reason of a society,
participated in more or less by the mass of individuals, enforcible
upon all who will not participate in it.”--_On Utilitarianism_.

[43.1] The Communists, who declare war against Capital, can get
over this only by saying that every society is entitled to demand
of its members that they shall sacrifice any part of their natural
rights for the good of the whole to which they belong, and further,
that man being essentially a social animal has no right to anything
except as a member of society. The question will then be, whether
it is good for society to be so exclusively society as to swallow up
all individualism and what naturally belongs thereto.

[49.1] εὐδαιμονία happiness, literally, well-goddedness,--the state of
a creature to whom the gods are kind.

[49.2] So Austin (_Province of Jurisprudence_, Lecture iv.) calls
“Good the aggregate of pleasures,” a language borrowed from
Bentham, which Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle would with one
consent have repudiated.

[66.1] _On the Philosophy of Ethics_. By S. S. Laurie: Edin. 1866.

[70.1] “Atheism is repugnant to moral and political economy, for it
necessarily destroys the idea of morality. If there is no law in
the material world, there can be no law in the spiritual and social
worlds. Every motive for self-restraint is removed; for the idea
of an object for which to strive is rejected.”--Baring-Gould,
_Development of Religious Belief_, vol. i. p. 283. An original and
powerful work.

[74.1] This seems the best way of translating the τὸ δαιμόνιον in the
mouth of Polytheists. It is a sort of vague step towards Monotheism.

[75.1] As if it were the destiny of modern philosophers to pervert the
wisdom of the ancients into ridiculous caricature, so we find in
reference to this matter Helvetius in a well-known passage saying
seriously that if horses had had hands they would have been men,
and if men had had hoofs they would have been horses! In this
way the ingenious fool always makes a knife out of every instrument
to cut his own fingers.

[75.2] See this point stated more formally in Hegel, _Encyclopädie_, 50.

[81.1] Darwin, by the use of the term _selection_, turned _accident_ into
_design_, and was the first to do so.--Stirling on Protoplasm
(Edinburgh, 1869), p. 69.

[85.1] Stirling on Protoplasm, p. 33.

[86.1] The opposite and characteristically modern view of the origin
and character of religious duties may be stated most shortly in a
sentence from a distinguished modern thinker:--

“If there be a God, then man bears relations to Him, _and his
duties to God are of a private nature, and therefore not of interest
to the State, and in no way coming under the jurisdiction of
Science_. And what the duties are which man owes to God can
only be ascertained by a _Revelation_, for they cannot be discovered
experimentally.”

There are two propositions here essentially anti-Socratic, and, in my
opinion, essentially false:--(1.) That religion belongs to man only as
a private individual, and not as a citizen. This is a favourite idea
of the most recent times, and has its only root in the fact that on
account of the growth of a certain stout and stubborn individualism in
Christian Churches it has been found practically impossible to make
Christian men combine socially for the performance of any religious
function. This difficulty, however, belongs not to the nature of
religion, but to the imperfection of moral culture in our existing
ethical associations called Churches. The social recognition of the
Supreme Father still remains as much an ideal in modern times as it
was a real in ancient times. The ancients sacrificed in this matter
the individual to the State; we, for the glorification of the
individual, allow the State to sit shorn of one of its greatest
glories. Whatsoever a man is bound to do as a moral being
individually, he is bound to do socially, _if it be possible_. The
so-called Voluntary system is a mere shift to save the trouble and
shirk the difficulty which narrow-minded Christians feel in working
together to give a national expression to common religious feelings
and common religious convictions.

(2.) The second proposition here is, that religious duties can
only be ascertained by Revelation, and come in no way under the
jurisdiction of SCIENCE. To this Socrates answers that religious
duties are three, _reverence_, _gratitude_, and _obedience_, and that the
first two of these have their root in the commonest instincts and
most rudimentary notions of reasonable beings, while the third,
depending, as it does, partly on general science, partly on special
intellectual culture, falls directly under the jurisdiction of Science.
For to obey the laws of God we must know them, and we know
them, as we know other things, by observation and reflection; for
they are not hidden, as some men count hidden, but written everywhere,
both within us and without, in the most legible scripture,
and pressed upon us daily by the most cogent arguments; and no
man can escape from their obligation. If by duties to God Mr.
Gould understands only special religious observances as expressive
of our religious sentiments and convictions, then no doubt it is
quite true that these special forms of expression must either be
revealed directly from Heaven, or vary considerably, according to
the character and condition of the people who use them; but such
a narrowing of the idea of religious duty, confining it to the accidental
instead of the essential, depriving it in fact of its soul and
vital principle, is most unphilosophical; and I am more willing to
suppose that such a thoughtful writer as Mr. Gould should have
been led astray by a fashionable phase of modern thought, than
that he should be deliberately guilty of the impertinence of giving
his readers the shell of a thing as its definition, when they had a
right to look for the kernel.

[88.1] Since writing the above I have stumbled on an excellent passage
on the inherent germ of Monotheism in Polytheism, contained in
Baring Gould’s _Development of Religious Belief_, vol. i. p. 268, etc.
To the same purpose the reader may consult my notes on Homer’s
Iliad, viii. 2.

[89.1] Baring-Gould on the _Development of Religious Belief_
(London, 1869), p. 124.

[101.1] This was written twelve months before the startling events of
the late Franco-German war brought the deficiencies of our British
military system so prominently into public view.

[117.1] This passage teaches us all that can profitably be said on the
so-called δαίμων or familiar spirit of Socrates. It was plainly nothing
but an inward voice dissuading from certain courses of action,
which, as it rested on no grounds of human argumentation, and
did not pretend to explain itself, fell to be classed with what we
call mysterious instincts and presentiments, and which, as a pious
man, Socrates, and in my opinion wisely, attributed to the Source
of all original vital power and spiritual energy, viz., GOD. If men
eat and drink, and sleep and perform other essential functions of
vitality, by a law which the Creator keeps in His own hands, and
over which human volition exercises no control, there is no reason
why in the higher region of our moral and intellectual life, behind
and beyond the domain of our purpose and volition, the great
Source of all cosmic energy should not reserve for Himself a field
of deeper influence, and by us necessarily inexplicable. Our understanding,
with all its pretensions, is a petty faculty, which asserts
its power lightly in dissecting what is dead, but proves itself
feeble and powerless in all that concerns vital origination. Homer
constantly represents his heroes as receiving inspirations of strength,
and wisdom from the Infinite Source of all strength and wisdom;
and in accordance with this healthy human instinct Socrates taught
that on great and critical occasions he was often directed by a
mysterious voice, or intimation from the τὸ δαιμόνιον. The only
thing about the matter which ought to require explanation is the
method in which this divine power acted. Its method of action
was negative, never positive, and warning on each occasion from
what was not to be done, never inciting to what should be done.
The reason of this, we think, is not far to seek. Socrates was both
personally, and in virtue of the people to whom he belonged, a
reasoner; logic was his lamp through life, and by this clear light
he was habitually guided in all common cases. But there are dark
and doubtful moments in the brightest lives, when even the wisest
and the most conscientious can find no sure direction in the pros
and cons that suffice for general guidance; in such cases one is
thrown back on those radical and fundamental instincts of character
which underlie all reasoning and all purpose; and the particular
God-given instinct which was strong in the nature of Socrates was
_not_ to meddle with certain matters, from which it was doubtful
whether his character would come out unscathed. It was therefore
a mysterious instinct of caution that God had implanted in the
breast of the philosopher, an instinct of the utmost value to all men
who live in the world, but especially useful to one who, like
Socrates, was always in danger of being drawn by his strong and
wide sympathies into regions from which, in the interest of his
higher mission, it was better that he should retire.

[130.1] Luther’s Briefe, anno 1516.--De Wette, i. p. 16.

[131.1] Life of Harris, by the Earl of Malmesbury.

[131.2] Hume’s life, i. p. 92.

[152.1] ἕξις, ἦθος, ἔθος, with which again St. Paul agrees, Heb. v. 14,
where Aristotle’s favourite word is used.

[173.1] It is interesting here to observe how Aristotle, concurring with
Homer (_Od._ xiii. 289), makes the distinction, unquestionably just,
through the neglect of which Burke fell into his notable error that
beautiful things are always small. He ought to have known that
there is the same distinction between _beautiful_ and _pretty_ in English,
as between καλός and ἀστεῖος in Greek.

[181.1] The scholar will observe that throughout this passage, and
specially in this last sentence, I have paraphrased the author a
little, to bring out more clearly his meaning. His style is too curt
and bald, not to suffer in some cases by strict literalness.

[184.1] Grant’s _Ethics of Aristotle_, vol. i. p. 147.

[192.1] Lecky, _History of European Morals_, vol. i., Introductory
Discourse.

[194.1] See the doctrine of Heraclitus in Ritter and Preller’s admirable
compend--_Historia Philosophiæ Græco-Romanæ_--one of the
best manuals of the many that we owe to the erudition and judgment
of the great German people.

[198.1] _Life of Martin Boos_, 1855, p. 25.

[198.2] Life of Franklin in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_.

[200.1] ὁ θεὸς ὁ ἀναγεννήσας ἡμᾶς εἰς ἐλπίδα ζῶσαν δι᾽ ἀναστάσεως
Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκ νεκρῶν.--1 Pet. i. 3.

[202.1] Westcott, _The Gospel of the Resurrection_, London, 1867.

[205.1] To persons ignorant of Greek, who may wish to receive a vivid
impression of the moral influence of Stoicism, I recommend Long’s
_Translation of Antoninus_, Lecky’s _History of European Morals_,
and Farrar’s _Seekers after God_.

[213.1]
Ἔστι γὰρ δὴ ὡς ὁ παλαιὸς λόγος, καὶ ἡ σωφροσύνη, καὶ ἡ ἀνδεία
καὶ ἡ πᾶσα ἀρετὴ, κάθαρσις, καὶ ἡ φρόνησις αὐτὴ· διὸ καὶ αἱ τελεταὶ
ὀρθῶς αἰνίττονται τὸν μὴ κεκαθαρμένον καὶ ἐν ᾅδου κείσεσθαι ἐν
βορβόρω, ὅτι τὸ μὴ καθαρὸν βορβόρῳ διὰ κάκην φίλον, οἶα δὴ καὶ
ὗες, οὐ καθαραὶ τὸ σῶμα, χαίρουσι τῷ τοιούτῳ.--PLOTINUS, _Enn_.
i. 6, p. 55; edit, Kirchhoff, i. 6.

[214.1] Professor Ferrier on Consciousness; _Works_, vol. i. p. 221.

[223.1] _Usque-beatha_--whisky.

[229.1] Read Mr. Farrar’s delightful little work, _Seekers after God_.

[229.2] Burton’s _Life of David Hume_, vol. ii. p. 195.

[234.1] Lines on the death of Faraday.--_Punch_, September 7, 1867--a
periodical which though sometimes unjust is never vicious, and
always knows to appreciate real excellence.

[235.1] βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα,--1 Pet. ii. 9.

[240.1] The Rev. J. W. Fletcher, Rector of Madeley, Shropshire.

[245.1] _Pædag_. ii. 1-3.

[255.1] It is to be observed, however, that the friends of agricultural
improvement in Strasburg used their interest to get the merits of
their pastor known in Paris; and the consequence was that he was
rewarded with a gold medal after having worked fifty-one years in
the unnoticed useful obscurity of his parish. Altogether his
golden pastorate lasted for the long space of fifty-nine years.

[255.2] Westcott, _Gospel of the Resurrection_ (1867), p. 96.

[261.1] Westcott, _Gospel of the Resurrection_, p. 98.

[267.1] οὐ γὰρ ἄν πώποτε εἶδεν ὀφθαλμός ἥλιον ἡλιοειδὴς μὴ γεγενημένος,
οὐδὲ τὸ καλὸν ἄν ἴδοι ψυχὴ μὴ καλὴ γενομένη.--PLOTINUS, i. 9; Kirchhoff.

[267.2] Locke, ii. 21, 68.

[274.1] Austin.

[274.2] Schwegler, _Geschichte der Philosophie_. Translated by Stirling.

[277.1] _Logic_, chap iii.

[278.1] Ferrier on Consciousness; Posthumous Works, vol. i. p. 255.

[289.1] _Analysis_, ii. 137, 139.

[293.1] _Emotions and Will_, xv. p. 290.

[293.2] On Consciousness; _Works_, i. 195.

[296.1]
Βίας ἐρωτηθεὶς τὶ ἂν εἴη τῶν κατὰ τὸν βίον ἀφόβων εἶπεν ἀγαθὴ συνείδησις.
Περίανδρος ἐρωτηθεὶς τὶ ἔστιν ἐλευθερία εἶπεν ἀγαθὴ ουνείδησις.
                                            STOBÆUS, _Sermon_, cvi.

[298.1] Bentham said, “I am a selfish man, as selfish as any man can
be; but in me somehow or other selfishness has taken the shape of
benevolence” (_Works_, xi. 95). This is neither wit nor sense, but
an affectation of humility of which one should have thought
Bentham would not have been guilty.

[300.1] The value of Mr. Austin’s work is more juridical than moral,
and the ethical part of it is so entirely identical with Paley that for
the purposes of the present survey it did not seem to demand
special notice.

[304.1] On the Different Species of Philosophy.

[305.1] From a letter written in 1734.--Burton’s _Life of Hume_, i. p.
35. In Sect. I. of the “Inquiry into the Principles of Morals,” he
says, “The ancient philosophers, though they often affirm that
virtue is nothing but conformity to reason, yet in general seem to
consider morals as deriving their existence from taste and sentiment.”
This is directly contrary to the fact.

[307.1] Sceptical Solutions of Sceptical Doubts.

[307.2] On the different Species of Philosophy.

[307.3] On Self-love.

[309.1] Hume’s Essay _On some Verbal Disputes_.

[310.1] “There is no enthusiasm amongst philosophers.”--_On Providence
and a Future State_.

[319.1] Ferrier, Works by Grant and Lushington, vol. i. p. 116.

[319.2] See the remarkable letter to Mure of Caldwell in Burton’s
Hume, i. 162.

[325.1] _Introduction to the Principles of Morals, etc._, chap. ii.

[329.1] [J. S. Mill died on the 8th of May 1873.]

[End of Footnotes]





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