Philosophy 433                                     History of Ethics                       Darwall                        Winter 2008




I  Tying up loose ends in Hobbes.

            A. Morality as rules that require genuine sacrifice for mutual advantage;

            B. Normativity of these rules depending on the fact that agents will do best if they deliberate according to them;

            C. How does this fit with the projectivist account?  The desire for self-preservation will lead agents to judge that it would be good for them to deliberate in accordance with these rules.  However, to do so, it would seem that they need to take the rules themselves as authoritative—they must accept them as valid norms.  If projectivism is to explain that judgment, it would seem to have to hypothesize a distinctive motivational state (norm acceptance) which normative judgments project.


II.  Early modern natural law.

            A.  A law conception of morality:  Pufendorf, Hobbes, Locke.

            B.  The normativity of the moral law—Leibniz’s and Cudworth’s objections: God’s goodness must be independent of his Will (Leibniz—Robert Adams’s version: that’s so, but God’s goodness makes what He wills obligatory (i.e., creates moral obligation).  Remaining problem how does it give God a right to be obeyed?)  God’s authority must be independent of His will.


III.  Ethics of virtue reaction.  The idea that morality requires a distinctive psychic state (in addition to self-love, etc.) is an important theme in the thought of Francis Hutcheson, an important figure in what has come to be known as the "Scottish Enlightenment", a remarkable period in the eighteenth century in which

Scotland was very much at the center of the intellectual and artistic scene in Europe.  Along with writers such as David Hume, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid, Hutcheson had an important influence on the moral and political philosophy of the eighteenth century throughout Europe.

            The Inquiry was first published in 1725, almost 75 years after Leviathan.  Probably the most important philosophical event during the intervening period was Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1690, which worked out an empiricist epistemology and philosophy of language owing much to Hobbes.  Like Hobbes, Locke held all ideas come ultimately from experience.  He distinguished, famously, between simple and complex ideas.  All simple ideas come from experience.  And we form, through imagination, complex ideas from simple ideas.

            As you will see, Hutcheson follows Locke here.  But whereas writers like Hobbes and Locke had argued that ideas distinctive of morality reduce to other nonmoral ideas, Hutcheson denied this.  He held that if we actually consult our experience we will see that it presents us with irreducible moral ideas.  Locke, for example, had argued that moral ideas could be analyzed as follows: a moral obligation, exists just in case God wills that we act in a certain way and promises sanctions if we don’t. 

            Hutcheson will argue, however, that experience presents us with an idea of morality, specifically of "the morally approvable", which cannot be so reduced.

            Secondly, where writers like Hobbes and Locke argued that the only motive to do what we ought can be egoistic, since they thought the only rational motive to do anything is that it is the likeliest means to our own (self-regarding) ends, Hutcheson denied this.  He believed people can act out of benevolence, a direct desire for the happiness of others.  The major egoist of Hutcheson's time was Bernard Mandeville. title page announces he will be arguing "against the author of The Fable of the Bees," i.e., Mandeville.  The philosopher he announces he will defend is the Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 3rd Earl of Sh.), an extremely important moral philosopher at the turn of the eighteenth century who also attacked egoism, and who was the first to coin the phrase "moral sense" of which Hutcheson would make so much.


III  Moral goodness.  We should begin our study of Hutcheson with the first paragraph of his introduction:

            "The word MORAL GOODNESS, in this treatise, denotes our idea of some quality apprehended in actions, which procures approbation, attended with the desire of the agent's happiness.  MORAL EVIL denotes our idea of a contrary quality, which excited condemnation or dislike.  Approbation and condemnation are probably simple ideas, which cannot be farther explained.  We must be contented with these imperfect descriptions, until we discover whether we really have such ideas, and what general foundation there is in nature for this difference of actions, as morally good or evil."

            Note several things:

            (i)  Our idea of moral goodness is of a quality apprehended (to be) in actions,

            (ii) which (when apprehended) causes a distinctive response, viz., approbation and desire of the agent's happiness;

            (iii) approbation (and condemnation) are simple ideas (moral goodness and moral evil being complex ideas defined partly in terms of these simple ideas).


            Thus, if there exists a quality, apprehended to be in actions, which causes approbation and desire of the agent's happiness when it is apprehended, then this quality will itself be moral goodness.  (N.B., Hutcheson does not say that moral goodness is the quality of causing approbation when apprehended).  To see whether this quality exists we must conduct an empirical investigation.  As he says, "we must be contented with these imperfect descriptions, until we discover whether we really have such ideas, and what general foundation there is in nature for this difference of actions, as morally good or evil.”

            Let’s get clear as to what simple idea Hutcheson means to refer by the terms 'approbation' and 'condemnation' in order to discover "whether we really have such ideas." Here the best that Hutcheson can do is to ask us to introspect.  "In this matter men must consult their own breasts."

            In this vein, consider your response to a person we "suppose possessed of honesty, faith, generosity, kindness" and compare these with those we might have to someone we suppose "possessed of the natural goods.” Do we not "find that we necessarily love and approve the possessors of the former; but the possession of the latter procures no approbation or good-will at all toward the possessor, but often contrary affections of envy and hatred."  And similarly for natural and moral evil.  We respond to the former with very different feelings than we do to "treachery, cruelty, [or] ingratitude."


IV  Empiricist method.  Throughout Section I, Hutcheson continues to sound the same theme:  if we consult our experience we see that we have a perfectly natural, spontaneous, and involuntary response of approbation and condemnation to different motives and traits of character.

            And Hutcheson argues against Mandeville that moral approbation can’t be reduced to self-love: "Suppose we reap the same advantage from two men, one of whom serves us from an ultimate desire of our happiness, or good-will toward us; the other from views of self-interest, or by constraint:  both are in this case equally beneficial or advantageous to us, and yet we shall have quite different sentiments of them.”  Thus  approbation is not a complex idea that can be

reduced to the sense of our own advantage. 

            Moreover, if approbation were a feeling derived from the sense of advantage, then it would not arise spontaneously, with no evident connection to one's advantage  (see sec. IV)

            Finally (sec. VII), this idea could not wholly be the result of custom or education.  These cannot give us any new simple ideas.  At best they can get us to associate the simple ideas we have with other things. Just as no training can give us the idea of red.

V Additional Empirical Arguments. In addition to the arguments mentioned earlier, Hutcheson offers the following:

1. "Had we no sense of good distinct from . . . advantage or interest . . . the sensations and affections toward a fruitful field, or commodious habitation, would be much the same with what we have toward a generous friend, or any noble character; for both are or may be advantageous to us." (Keep this in mind when we get to Hume. Q: How would things be affected if we changed "to us" to "to someone"?)

2. "And we should no more admire any action, or love any person in a distant country, or age, whose influence could not extend to us, than we love the mounts of Peru, while we are unconcern'd in the Spanish trade."

3. "We should have the same sentiments and affections toward inanimate beings, which we have toward rational agents, which yet every one knows to be false."

4. "Our sense of natural good and evil would make us receive, with equal serenity and composure, an assault, a buffet, and affront from a neighbour, a cheat from a partner, or trustee, as we would an equal damage from the fall of a beam, a tile, or a tempest."

5. "Actions no way detrimental may occasion the strongest anger and indignation, if they evidence only impotent hatred and contempt."

6. "In a Nation . . . let every man consult his own breast, which of the two characters he has the most agreeable idea of?"

7. "Do not the former [generosity, faith, humanity, gratitude] excite our admiration, and love, and study of imitation where-ever we see them, almost at first view, without any such reflection [on their relation to our interest], and the latter [cruelty, treachery, ingratitude], our contempt, and abhorrence?"

8. "A covetous man shall dislike any branch of trade, how useful soever it may be to the publick, if there is no gain for himself in it; here is an aversion from interest. Propose a sufficient premium, and he shall the first who sets about it. . . . Now is it the same way with our sense of moral actions? Should any one advise us to wrong a minor . . . we at first abhor it: assure us that it will be very advantageous to us . . . our sense of the action is not alter'd. It is true, these motives may make us undertake it; but they have no more influence upon us to make us approve it, than a physician's advice has to make a nauseous potion pleasant to the taste, when we perhaps force ourselves to take it for the recovery of health."

VI Irreducible moral ideas. Approbation and condemnation are simple ideas. And really, all that Hutcheson means in saying that we have a moral sense is that our psychological makeup is such that these ideas are part of normal human experience. "We are not to imagine, that this moral sense, more than the other senses, supposes any innate ideas, knowledge, or pratical proposition: we mean by it only a determination of our minds to receive the simple ideas of approbation or condemnation." Now, if we have these ideas, and if there are qualities of actions, which we can apprehend in actions, and the apprehension of which causes us to have them, then there will be what Hutcheson calls a "general foundation . . . in nature" for moral goodness and evil. Indeed, the qualities of action, apprehension of which causes approbation and condemnation will, respectively, be moral goodness and moral evil.

What, then, does moral goodness turn out to be? How an adequate an account is this? Does it secure objectivity? Does it secure normativity?

Some contemporary moral sense or "sensibility" theories:

John McDowell, "Values and Secondary Qualities"

John McDowell, "Projection and Truth in Ethics"

David Wiggins, "A Sensible Subjectivism" (all of these can be found in Darwall, Gibbard, Railton, eds., Moral Discourse and Practice