Peter Kropotkin Archive
Source: Published by Dial Press, 1921; English Translation, 1924
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021
The liberation of science from the Church's yoke-and
consequently also of ethical
teachings,-came about in France approximately at the same time as in England.
The French thinker, Erné Descartes, took the same lead in this movement as did
Francis Bacon in England, and their principal works appeared almost
But due to various causes, the French movement took a somewhat different turn from the English; and in France, libertarian ideas penetrated to much wider circles and exercised a much deeper influence throughout Europe than the movement originated by Bacon, which created a revolution in science and in scientific speculation.
The liberating movement in France began at the end of the sixteenth century, but it followed a path different from that in England where it took the form of the Protestant movement and of the peasant and townsfolk revolution. In France the Revolution broke out only at the end of the eighteenth century, but libertarian ideas began to spread widely in French society long before the Revolution. Literature was the chief conductor of these ideas. The first to express libertarian ideas in French literature was Rabelais (1483(?)-1553), whom Michel Montaigne followed in spirit.
Montaigne was one of the most brilliant of French writers. He was the first to express in a light, easily readable form, precisely from the standpoint of "plain common sense," bold and most "heretical" views about religion.
Montaigne's famous book, "Essais," which appeared in 1583, met with great success; it went through many editions and was read everywhere in Europe, and later even the prominent writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries willingly recognized Montaigne as one of their teachers. Montaigne's book aided considerably in the liberation of ethics from the old scholastic dogmas.
In his "Essais" Montaigne gave nothing but a series of frank confessions about his own character and the motives of his judgments and acts, and also about the character of the people of his circle, for he was intimate with the best society. And he judged human actions as a refined, somewhat humanitarian Epicurean, whose egotism was softened by a slight tinge of philosophy; he exposed the religious hypocrisy behind which other epicurean egoists and their religious mentors are accustomed to hide. Thus, owing to his great literary talent, he prepared the soil for that critical, sarcastic tone with respect to religion, which later, in the eighteenth century, permeated the whole of French literature. Unfortunately, neither Montaigne, nor his followers up to the present time, have subjected to the same sort of popular, sarcastic critique from within, the machine of the state government, which has now taken the place of the hierarchy of the Church in ruling the social life of men.
A somewhat more serious inquiry, but still in the same style, was undertaken
somewhat later by the theologian and father-confessor of Queen Margaret, Pierre
Charron (1541-1603). His book "Traité de la Sagesse" (Treatise on Wisdom),
appeared in 1601 and at once became popular. Although Charron remained a priest,
he was in reality a true skeptic, and his skepticism was even sharper than that
of Montaigne. In discussing similar doctrines in different religions-Christian
and pagan-Charron showed how much they have in common and how little morality
Generally speaking, this skeptical and at the same time realistic attitude toward religion later formed the distinguishing feature of French literature of the eighteenth century, and manifested itself with especial prominence in the writings of Voltaire and of the Encyclopædists, as well as in the novel, and particularly in the dramatic works, of the pre-revolutionary period, and finally in the Revolution itself.
Bacon gave science a new and a very fruitful method of studying natural phenomena,-the inductive method,-and thereby made possible the building up of a science about life on the globe and about the Universe, without the interference of religious and metaphysical explanations. Descartes, however, continued in some measure to use the deductive method. His thought preceded the discoveries to which the inductive investigation of nature was to lead, and he attempted to explain by means of physico-mathematical theorems such regions in the life of nature which had not yet yielded to scientific explanation,-the regions which we are only now beginning to penetrate. He always remained, however, on the firm ground of the physical interpretation of phenomena. Even in his boldest suppositions about the structure of matter he remained a physicist, and endeavored to express his hypotheses in mathematical language.
Publishing his works in France, which had not yet freed itself from the yoke of
the Catholic Church, as had England, Descartes was compelled to express his
conclusions very guardedly. 3
In 1628 he had to leave France and to settle in Holland, where he published his "Essais philosophiques" in 1637. This book included his fundamental work, "Discours de la méthode," which exercised a deep influence upon the development of philosophical thought and laid the foundation of the mechanistic interpretation of nature.
Descartes gave but little special attention to the question of morality and its relation to religion, and his views on moral matters can be learned only from his letters to the Swedish princess, Christina.
Even the relation of science to religion interested him but little, and his attitude toward the Church was very reserved, like that of all the French writers of his time. The burning of Giordano Bruno was still well remembered. But Descartes's attempt to explain the life of the Universe through physical phenomena which are subject to accurate mathematical investigation-(this method received the name of "Cartesianism")-so definitely set aside all the teachings of the Church, that the Cartesian philosophy soon became just as powerful a weapon for liberating knowledge from faith, as Bacon's "inductive method" had proved to be.
Descartes carefully avoided all attacks upon the teachings of the Church; he even advanced a series of proofs of the existence of God. These proofs, however, are based on such abstract reasoning that they produced the impression of being inserted only for the purpose of avoiding the accusation of atheism. But the scientific part of Descartes's teaching was so constructed that it contained no evidence of the interference of the Creator's will. Descartes's God, like Spinoza's God in later times, was the great Universe as a whole, Nature itself. When he wrote of the psychic life of man he endeavored to give it a physiological interpretation despite the limited knowledge then available in the field of physiology.
But in the world of the exact sciences, particularly in the field of the mathematical investigation of physical phenomena, Descartes's accomplishment was considerable. It is safe to say that he invented a new science through his methods of mathematical investigation, especially in analytical geometry, which he re-created. He not only discovered new methods but he also applied them to the investigation of some of the most difficult problems of universal physics, namely,-to the study of the vortex-motion of the infinitesimal particles of matter in cosmic space. Only now, in its study of the universal ether, has modern physics again approached these fundamental problems of cosmic life.
In giving science a new method of penetrating into the mysteries of nature, Descartes, like Bacon, demonstrated at the same time the power of science as compared to the impotence of superstitions and of intuitive, i.e., conjectural, explanations.
Shortly before, Copernicus had proved that our globe is but one of the satellites of the sun, and that the innumerable stars which we see are millions of worlds similar to our solar system. Thus the enigma of the Universe unfolded before man in all its grandeur, and the human mind began to seek the explanation of cosmic existence. Bacon was the first to assert that experiment and inductive method can help us understand this life, while Descartes endeavored to penetrate into cosmic being and to divine at least some of its fundamental laws-the laws that are operative not only within the limits of our solar system, but also far beyond its borders, in the stellar world.
It is true, that in seeking the bases for a
knowledge of nature in mathematical thinking, as was the dream of Pythagoras and
his pupils, and later of Giordano Bruno, Descartes thereby increased the
importance of metaphysics in the philosophy of the seventeenth and the eighteenth
century; and he helped this philosophy to bear a semblance of science in its
search for truth, not through observation and experiment, but through abstract
thinking. But, on the other hand, Descartes put physics on a basis which enabled
it, in the nineteenth century, to make the discovery that the essence of heat and
electricity is in the vibrations of ponderable particles; and thus physics was
able to discover towards the end of the century a series of invisible vibrations,
among which the Roentgen rays were only an introduction to a vast region where
several other discoveries are already germinating, just as astounding as these
rays, or as wireless telephony. 4
Bacon founded a new method of scientific research and foreshadowed the discoveries of Lamarck and Darwin, by pointing out that under the influence of changing conditions Nature continually evolves new species of animals and plants, while Descartes, by his "theory of vortices," foreshadowed in a sense the scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century.
In speaking of Epicurus I pointed out the great influence exercised by his teaching for five centuries in the Greek and then in the Roman world. The Stoics stubbornly opposed this teaching, but even such prominent representatives of Stoicism as Seneca and Epictetus were fascinated by Epicureanism. It was vanquished only by Christianity; but even among the Christians, as Guyau remarked, Lucian, and even St. Augustine, paid tribute to it.
When, in Renaissance times, there began the search for and the study of the monuments of Greco-Roman learning, the thinker's of various tendencies, who wished to be liberated from the yoke of the Church, began to turn with special affection to the writings of Epicurus and his followers: Diogenes Laertius, Cicero, and especially Lucretius, who was one of the earliest predecessors of the modern scientific interpretation of nature.
The chief strength of the Epicurean teaching, as we have seen, lay in the fact that in rejecting everything supernatural and miraculous, it rejected at the same time the supernatural origin of the moral sense in man. It explained this sense by the rational striving for happiness. This happiness, according to Epicurus, consists not merely in the gratification of physical needs, but in the greatest possible fullness of life, i.e., in the gratification of the highest needs and feelings, including the need of friendship and sociality. It was in this form that "Epicureanism" began to be advocated by those who rejected theological morality.
Already in the second half of the sixteenth century Montaigne took an exactly similar stand. Somewhat later, in the seventeenth century, the Epicurean viewpoint of moral questions was adopted by the philosopher Pierre Gassendi, a learned priest, and a physicist, mathematician, and thinker.
In 1624, when he was a professor of philosophy in South France, he published in the Latin language a work openly opposed to the teachings of Aristotle, which then dominated the ecclesiastical schools. 5 In astronomy Gassendi pitted against Aristotle the views of Copernicus, who, as is known, proved that the Earth is not at all the center of the Universe, but merely one of the lesser satellites of the Sun. Owing to these views Copernicus was considered by the
Church a dangerous heretic. And in moral questions Gassendi took the exact position of Epicurus. Man, asserted Gassendi, seeks in life, first of all, "happiness and pleasure," but both these conceptions, as was already pointed out by the Greek philosopher, are to be interpreted in a wide sense: not only in the sense of bodily pleasures, for the sake of which man is capable of harming others, but primarily in the sense of the inner peace of the soul which can be attained only when man sees in others not enemies but comrades. Thus the writings of Gassendi answered to the need of the educated classes of that time, who were already trying to throw off the yoke of the Church and of superstition, although they had not yet realized the need of the scientific interpretation of Nature in general. This tendency urged them so much more toward the new ideal of a social life based on equity among men. This ideal began to take form somewhat later, in the eighteenth century.
The time of Bacon and Descartes, i.e., the time of the revival of the scientific study of nature, marks also the turning point in ethics. The thinkers began to look for the natural sources of morality in human nature itself. Hobbes, who lived somewhat later than the two founders, already named, of modern natural science, (his principal works appeared in the middle of the seventeenth century, i.e., between 1642-1658), developed, as we have seen, a complete system of ethics freed from religion.
Unfortunately, as I have pointed out, Hobbes set out with an utterly erroneous conception of primitive man and of human nature in general, and consequently, he was led to conclusion entirely fallacious. But a new path in the study of morality was opened, and from that time a series of thinkers labored to prove that the moral element in man is not the result of fear of punishment in this or a later life, but the result of the natural development of the really fundamental properties of human nature. Moreover, in proportion as modern humanity frees itself from fears inculcated by religions, there is an ever-increasing need to erect nobler and finer edifices of social life, and thus to raise the ideal of moral man to ever higher perfection.
We have seen already what the pantheist Spinoza,-the follower of Descartes,-and also his contemporary, Locke, thought in this connection. But even more definite were the pronouncements on this subject by the French contemporary of Locke,-Pierre Bayle.
Having been brought up on the philosophy of Descartes, Bayle, through his remarkable Encyclopædia,6 laid the foundation of a scientific interpretation of nature that soon acquired tremendous importance in the intellectual development of mankind due to Hume, Voltaire, Diderot, and the Encyclopædists generally. He was the first to advocate openly the liberation of moral teachings from their religious motivation.
Starting with the definitions given by the Church itself, Bayle proceeded to prove that lack of faith might be considered a source or a support of the evil way of living only if we are to limit the meaning of faith to love of God, as the Supreme Moral Ideal. In reality, however, this is not the case. Faith, as is known, has a different character and is combined with numerous superstitions. Besides, mere adherence to certain formulæ, or even a sincere faith in the truth of religious dogmas, does not give the strength to follow them; and owing to this circumstance all religions add to their teachings threats of punishment for nonobservance. On the other hand, morality, as is known, can very well exist side by side with atheism.
It becomes, therefore, necessary to investigate the possibility that human nature itself contains moral principles, resulting from the social life of men.
Guided by these considerations Bayle regarded the first principles of morality as an "eternal law,"-not of divine origin, but as a fundamental law of nature, or rather, its fundamental fact.
Unfortunately, Bayle's mind was preeminently that of a skeptic and a critic, and not of a builder of a new system. He did not develop, therefore, his idea of the natural origin of morality in man. But he was not permitted to carry his critique to its conclusions, for he aroused such animosity in the ecclesiastical camp and among the ruling classes, that he had to temper considerably the expression of his ideas. Nevertheless, his examination of both orthodox and moderate religiousness was so strong and witty, that he may be considered a direct predecessor of Helvétius, Voltaire, and the Encyclopædists of the eighteenth century.
La RochefoucauId, a contemporary of Bayle's, though he was not a philosopher who created his own philosophical system, nevertheless did perhaps even more than Bayle to prepare in France the ground for the elaboration of a morality independent of religion. This he accomplished through the influence of his book, "Maximes." La Rochefoucauld was a man of the world, constantly moving in the highest society. As a keen psychologist and an attentive observer he clearly saw the emptiness of the upper layer of French society of his time, its hypocrisy and its vanity. He saw that in the final analysis the people of his circle were guided solely by the desire of personal gain or personal advantage. To La Rochefoucauld it was apparent that formal religion does not restrain men from immoral acts, and he painted in dark colors the life of his contemporaries. On the basis of his observations of this life he came to the conclusion that egoism is the sole motive power of human activity, and this thought underlies his book. Man, according to La Rochefoucauld, loves only himself; even in others he loves only himself. All human passions and attachments are merely variations of thinly disguised egoism. La Rochefoucauld explained by egoistic motives even the best feelings of man: in bravery and courage he saw a manifestation of vanity, in generosity the manifestation of pride, in largesse mere ambition, in modesty-hypocrisy, etc. However, in spite of his pessimism, La Rochefoucauld greatly aided the awakening of critical thought in France; and his book, "Maximes," and the work of his contemporary, La Bruyère, "Caractères," were the favorite and the most widely distributed books in France at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century.7
La Bruyère was less pessimistic than La Rochefoucauld, though he, too, depicts men as unjust and ungrateful,-pitiless egoists by nature. La Bruyère thought, however, that they deserve clemency, because they are made evil by the evil conditions of life; man is unfortunate rather than corrupt.
However, neither Bayle, nor La Rochefoucauld, nor La Bruyère, though they denied religious morality, was able to evolve an ethical system based on purely natural laws. This task was attempted somewhat later by La Mettrie, Helvétius, and Holbach.
La Mettrie was one of the most rebellious minds of the eighteenth century; in his writings he declared war upon all metaphysical, religious, and political traditions, and like Hobbes, he proceeded to elaborate a materialistic cosmology with the same daring that marked its development in our time, in the 'fifties and the 'sixties of the nineteenth century. In his works, "Histoire naturelle de I'âme humaine," L'homme-plante," "L'homme machine," he denied the immortality of the soul and advocated materialistic ideas.8 The very titles of his books, especially "Man-Machine," which appeared in Paris in 1748, show how he interpreted human nature. "Our soul," wrote La Mettrie, "receives everything from feeling and sensations, and nature contains nothing beyond matter subjected to mechanical laws." For his ideas La Mettrie was exiled from France, and his book, "Man-Machine," was burned by an executioner in Paris. Simultaneously with La Mettrie, materialistic philosophy was expounded by Condillac (1715-1780), who developed his ideas in two works: "Treatise on the Origin of Human Knowledge" (1746), and "Treatise on Sensations" (1754).9
The eighteenth century was a remarkable period in the history of the development of mankind. A succession of thinkers, who became prominent in England and in France, rebuilt completely the very bases for our thinking,-for our outlook both on the external universe and in our understanding of ourselves and our moral conceptions. The French philosopher, Claude Helvétius, attempted, in the middle of the eighteenth century, to sum up these conquests of scientific thought in his famous book "On the Intellect."10 In this book Helvétius expounded in a clearly understandable and vivid form all the scientific achievements of the eighteenth century and of the end of the seventeenth, especially in the field of morality.
At the request of the Parisian clergy, Helvétius' book was burned in 1759, which did not prevent it from enjoying a still greater success. The essential features of Helvétius' ideas are as follows: man is a "sensual" animal, and at the basis of human nature lie the sensations, from which result all the forms of human activity, directed by pleasure or suffering. Therefore, the highest moral law lies in following pleasure and avoiding pain; these two enable us to judge the properties of things and the actions of others. We call the pleasant and the useful-virtue, and its opposite we call vise. In his noblest and most disinterested acts man is but seeking pleasure, and he performs these acts when the pleasure which they afford exceeds the suffering which they may possibly entail. In the task of developing moral character Helvétius ascribed great importance to education, which must aim to make man realize the fact that our personal interests consist in their blending with the interests of others.
Helvétius' philosophy and his views met with great success, and exercised a strong influence upon French society by preparing the ground for the ideas of the Encyclopædists, who arose in France in the second half of the eighteenth century.
In his writings Holbach followed the trend of the philosophical views of La Mettrie and Helvétius. He expounded his ideas on morality in his book "The Social System," which appeared in 1773. This book was condemned by the French Parliament in 1776.
HoIbach endeavored to ground ethics on a purely naturalistic basis, without any metaphysical assumptions. He maintained that man is always striving for happiness: his very nature urges him to avoid suffering and to seek pleasure. In his search for happiness man is guided by Reason, i.e., by the knowledge of true happiness and of the means for its attainment.11 Justice consists in permitting man to avail himself, or in not interfering with his availing himself, of his abilities, his rights, and of everything necessary for life and happines.12
Holbach's ideas were shared by most of the French Encyclopædists, who were on very friendly terms with Holbach. His salon in Paris was the gathering place for the most prominent thinkers of that time: Diderot, d'Alembert, Grimm, Rousseau, Marmontel, and others. Through them Holbach's ideas received further development and became one of the fundamental elements in the philosophic system of the Encyclopædists.13
The Encyclopædists and their philosophy are the principal and the most characteristic expression of the spirit of the eighteenth century. The Encyclopædia sums up all the achievements of mankind in the realm of science and politics up to the end of that period. It constitutes a real monument of the scientific thought of the eighteenth century, for it was produced by the collaboration of all the liberally minded, notable men of France; and they evolved that spirit of destructive criticism which later served to inspire the best men of the Great Revolution.
As is known, the initiators and the inspirers of the Encyclopædia were the philosophers Diderot (1713-1784) and d'Alembert (1717-1783). The Encyclopædists aimed at the liberation of the human mind through knowledge; they took a hostile attitude toward the government and toward all the traditional ideas upon which the old social order rested. No wonder, therefore, that both the government and the clergy, from the very outset, declared war against the Encyclopædists and put many obstacles in the way of the Encyclopædia.
The ethics of the Encyclopædists was, of course, in accord with the ideas prevalent at that time in France. Its basic principles may be stated as follows: man strives for happiness, and for its attainment men combine into societies; all men have equal rights to happiness, and consequently to the means of reaching this happiness; therefore, the just is identified with the useful. Misunderstandings that arise from conflicts between various rights should be adjusted by the laws, which are the expression of the common will and which must sanctify only that which is useful for the happiness of all. The same general tendency was followed by Abbé Raynal (1713-1796), whose work, "History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the Indies," was written so much in the spirit of the Encyclopædia that by many it was ascribed to Diderot. It was written in such an attractive style that it went through several editions in a short time. In that book the "natural state" of the savages was depicted in true colors, and the truth was reestablished as to the real nature of primitive men, whom Catholic missionaries had been in the habit of painting in the darkest colors as the imps of hell. Moreover, Raynal warmly advocated the necessity of the liberation of the negroes, so that his book was later nicknamed "The Bible of the Negroes." 14
The same humanitarian and scientific spirit manifested itself also in the writings of the Italian, Beccaria (1738-1794). He came out against cruelty, and advocated the abolition of torture and executions. He preached in Italy the ideas of the French Encyclopædists, and in 1764 he wrote "Dei delitti e delle pene" (On Crimes and Punishment).15 The book was at once translated into French by André Morellet; and Voltaire, Diderot, and Helvétius wrote additions to it. Beccaria proved in his book that the harsh punishments then practiced in Europe not only fail to eradicate crime, but, on the contrary, make the general mode of life more savage and cruel. He advocated the enlightenment of the masses as a way to prevent crime.
At the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century there appeared in France numerous "Utopias," i.e., attempts to picture an ideal human society based on reason. All these Utopias were based on faith in the power of Reason, and on the faith that morality is the inherent property of human nature. The most remarkable of all the French writers who produced such Utopias was Abbé Morelly. In 1753 he published a communistic novel, "Naufrage des îles flottantes," 16 where he attempts to prove that peoples may attain the happy life not through political reforms but through conformity with the laws of nature. Morelly developed his communistic ideas more in detail in his work "Code de la Nature: ou le véritable esprit de ses loix" (Paris, 1755). In this work Morelly describes in detail the communistic structure of society, where nothing can be the property of an individual, except the objects of daily use.
Morelly's books exercised a mighty influence in the prerevolutionary period, and for a long time served as a model for all the plans of reorganization of society along communistic principles. These books, most likely, inspired Mably (1709-1785), who, in his works "Entretiens de Phocion sur le rapport de la morale avec la politique," (1763) and "Le Droit et les devoirs du citoyen," 17 advocated communism and community of property (communité des biens). According to Mably, greed is the main obstacle in the road of mankind to a happy and moral life. It is necessary, therefore, to destroy first of all this "eternal enemy of equality" and to create a social system where no one would have a motive to seek happiness in augmenting his material welfare. Later these ideas inspired Gracchus Babeuf, who, together with his friends Buonarroti and Sylvain Maréchal, formed the "conspiracy of the Equals," for which Babeuf was executed in 1797.18
Side by side with the Utopian critique of the communists, in the middle of the eighteenth century, the physiocrats, headed by Quesnay 19 (1694-1774), undertook a purely scientific scrutiny of contemporary society, and for the first time pointed out the fundamental fault of the social system,-the division of sciciety into the producing class and into the parasitic proprietor class. They also raised for the first time the question of the nationalization of land. The need of social reorganization was being felt more and more urgently in France, and in the middle of the eighteenth century Baron Montesquieu, the greatest thinker of his time, came, forth with his critique of the old order.
Montesquieu's first work, in which he subjected despotism and the social system in general to critical examination, was the "Persian, Letters." In 1748 he published his principal work, "The Spirit of Laws," which is one of the remarkable productions of that epoch. In his book, "The Spirit of Laws," Montesquieu introduced a new interpretation of human society and its usages and laws, which he regarded as natural results of tne development of social life under differing conditions.
This work of Montesquieu's exercised a vast influence upon all the thinkers of the second half of the eighteenth century and inspired many investigations in the same direction in the beginning of the nineteenth. Especially important in Montesquieu's remarkable work was the application of the inductive method to the question of the development of social institutions,-in the strict sense in which Bacon understood the method; some of his own findings were of no little importance for his time. His critique of the monarchical power, his prevision of the peaceful mode of life in proportion as the industrial form of the social system develops, his crusade against cruel punishment for civil crimes, etc., became the watchword of all the liberal movements of Europe.
The influence exerted by Montesquieu on the thought of his time was far-reaching,-but by its style and manner of presentation book was accessible only to educated people. Montesquieu could not, or perhaps simply would not, write for the popular masses. Special qualities are necessary for this purpose: mainly a style that commands the attention of the mind and that makes clear all ideas expounded. These qualities were possessed in a high degree by the two philosophers of that time: Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau, who thus became the two thinkers that prepared France for the Great Revolution and wielded a potent influence upon that revolution.
Voltaire was a man of exceptional gifts of intellect. He was not a philosopher in the narrow sense of the word, but he utilized philosophy as a strong weapon against prejudice and superstition. He was not a moralist in the true sense of the word; his ethical teachings are not deep, but they were, nevertheless, hostile to all ascetic and metaphysical exaggerations. Voltaire had no ethical system of his own, but by his works he aided considerably the strengthening in ethics of humanitarianism, of respect for human personality. In all his writings Voltaire bravely demanded freedom of conscience, the abolition of the Inquisition, of tortures, execution, etc. Voltaire spread widely ideas of civic equity and civic law, which the Revolution later endeavored to apply to life. 20
Stimultaneously with Voltaire the philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, exerted a strong influence upon the French Revolution. Rousseau was a man of entirely different character from Voltaire's; he came forward with an attack on the contemporary social system, and called men to a simple and natural life. He taught that man is good and kind of nature, but that all evil comes from civilization. Rousseau explained moral tendencies by the desire for self-advancement, properly understood, but at the same time he held as the goal of development the highest social ideals. He saw the starting point of every rational social system in equity ("all men are born equal") and he upheld this principle so passionately, so alluringly, so convincingly that his writings exerted a tremendous influence not only in France, where the Revolution wrote on its banner "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," but throughout Europe as well. Generally speaking, Rousseau appears in all his works as the philosopher of feeling, in which he sees the vital force capable of correcting all defects and of doing great deeds. He is the enthusiast and the poet of high ideals, the inspirer of the rights of a citizen and of a man.
Speaking of the French philosophy of the second half of the eighteenth century we cannot fail to mention here two more thinkers, who were the first to formulate the idea of progress, the idea which has played a great part in the development of modern moral philosophy. These two thinkers are Turgot and Condorcet.
Turgot (1727-1781) was the first to develop the idea of human progress into a complete teaching in his work, "Discourse on Universal History." 21 Turgot formulated the law of progress as follows: "The human race, while gradually passing from quiescence to activity, slowly but unswervingly moves toward greater and greater perfection, which consists in sincerity in thought, kindliness in customs, and justice in laws."
Condorcet (1743-1794), who fell a victim of the Terror, in 1794, gave a further development of the idea of progress in his famous work, "Tableau des progrès de 1'esprit humain." 22 He not only endeavored to prove the existence of the law of progress, but he also attempted to derive the laws of future social development from the past history of mankind. Condorcet asserted that progress consists in striving for the abolition of social inequalities among citizens. He predicted that in the future men will learn to unite personal ends with the common interests, and that morality itself will become a natural need of man.
All these teachings and ideas influenced in one way or another the great social movement which it is customary to call the French Revolution. This revolution, as we have seen, had already taken place in the minds of people toward the end of the eighteenth century; and new, daring ideas, inspired by the sense of human dignity, swept like a turbulent stream over society, destroying the antiquated institutions and prejudices. The Revolution broke up the last remnants of the feudal system, but the new institutions created by the Revolution were the fruit of the philosophical movement which began in England and found its consummation in France. The famous "Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizens, proclaimed by the French Revolution, is composed of the ideas developed in the writings of Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Condorcet. Its fundamental principles are: all men are born free and equal; all have equal right to enjoy life and liberty; all have equal right for the development of their natural powers and abilities; all have a right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience. In all these principles we see in a clear and concise form the ideas of Hobbes and Locke as developed by the French thinkers and philosophers. The French Revolution left to future generations the realization of this program.
The ideas of Bacon and Locke were brilliantly developed in England in the second half of the eighteenth century by a great thinker and philosopher, David Hume, who had the most independent mind of the eighteenth century. Hume gave the new philosophy a solid basis: he applied it to all regions of knowledge, as Bacon wished it, and thereby exerted strong influence upon all subsequent thinking. Hume began by strictly dividing morality from religion; he denied the influence, in the evolution of moral conceptions, that was ascribed to religion by his English and Scotch predecessors, except Shaftesbury. He himself took the same skeptical attitude as Bayle, although he made some concessions in his "Dialogues concerning Natural Religion." 23
In developing the ideas of Bacon and Bayle, Hume wrote that men of independent type will evolve their own moral conceptions, but "in every religion, however sublime the verbal definition which it gives of its divinity, many of the votaries, perhaps the greatest number, will still seek the divine favor, not by virtue and good morals, which alone can be acceptable to a perfect being, but either by frivolous observances, by intemperate zeal, by rapturous ecstasies, or by the belief of mysterious and absurd opinions." 24
Hume frequently speaks of the "Supreme Creator," but it was not to him that he ascribed the source of moral judgments in man: "Nothing can preserve untainted the genuine principles of morals in our judgment of human conduct, but the absolute necessity of these principles to the existence of society." (Ibid., Sect. xiii, p. 443.)
The ethical part of Hume's philosophy represents, of course, only a special case of his general view on the origin of knowledge in man: "All the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment," and all our conceptions originate from impressions and from ideas 25 that are the product of memory, imagination, and thought.26 The bases of all knowledge rest on natural science, and its methods should be adopted in other sciences. Only, it must be remembered that in our study of the "laws" of the physical world we always proceed through successive approximations."
As regards morality, Hume pointed out that there have been continual disputes as to where its bases are to be sought: in reason, or in sentiment? Do we arrive at morality through a chain of reasoning processes, or direct through feeling and intuition? Are the fundamental principles of morality identical for all thinking creatures, or, like.judgments on beauty and ugliness, do they differ among different peoples, thus becoming the product of the historical development of man? The ancient philosophers, though they often affirmed that morality is nothing but conformity to reason, still more often derived it from taste and sentiment. Modern thinkers, however, are more inclined to favor reason, and they derive morality from the most abstract principles. But it is very likely that our final judgment in moral questions,-that which makes morality an active factor in our life,-is determined by "some internal sense or feeling, which nature has made universal in the whole species." But in order to pave the way for such a sentiment, it must be preceded by much preliminary thinking, by correct conclusions, keen analysis of complex relations, and the establishment of general facts-in short, by the effort of reason. 27 In other words, our moral conceptions are the product of both our feelings and our reason,-and of their natural development in the life of human societies.
A striving for the general good is the distinguishing feature of every act which we call moral, and moral duty means being guided by the considerations of the general good. Hume did not deny the desire for personal happiness in this striving for the common welfare, but he also understood that moral feeling cannot be explained by egoistic motives alone, as, for example, Hobbes explained it. In addition to the desire for personal good he recognized as further sources of morality, sympathy, the conception of justice, and the feeling of benevolence. But he interpreted justice not as consciousness of something obligatory, evolving in our mind in the course of social life, but rather as virtue, as a form of charity. Then, following Shaftesbury, he pointed out the feeling of harmony and completeness inherent in moral character, the desire for self-improvement, the possibility of a full development of human nature, and the aesthetic emotion of beauty, resulting from the fullest development of personality,-the idea which, as is known, was long after developed so admirably by M. Guyau.
The second part of Hume's treatise is devoted to benevolence: in this he pointed out among other things that our language contains very many words which prove that mutual benevolence has the general approval of mankind. Then, in discussing justice in the next part of his book, Hume makes an interesting remark concerning it. That justice is useful to society and is therefore respected-is clear. But such a consideration can not possibly be the sole source of this respect. Justice has proved to be necessary.
Every manner of social virtue would flourish in a society supplied abundantly with everything, without need of labor, but under such conditions there would be no thought of so cautious, jealous a virtue as justice. (Ibid., Sect. iii, part I, p. 222.) Because of this fact, even now those things that are available in abundance are owned in common. Similarly, if our reason, friendship, generosity, were strongly developed-there would be no need of justice. "Why should I bind another by a deed or promise, when I know that he is already prompted by the strongest inclination to seek my happiness? . . . Why raise landmarks between my neighbor's field and mine?" etc. (p. 223.) In general, the more mutual benevolence, the less need of justice. But since human society in reality presents a middle state, far removed from the ideal, man needs the conception of property; he also needs justice. Whence it is clearly seen that the idea of justice presented itself to Hume chiefly under the guise of square dealing in order to protect the rights of property, and not at all in the broader sense of equity. He wrote: "Thus the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the particular state and condition in which men are placed, and owe their origin and existence to that Utility, which results to the public from their strict and regular observance." (p. 226.)
Hume, of course, did not believe in the existence of the "Golden Age," nor in the likelihood of a period when man led a solitary existence. Society always existed, and if men had lived isolated lives, they would never have developed the conception of justice, or evolved rules of conduct. (pp. 227-228.) According to Hume the sense of justice may have originated either from reflecting about the mutual relations of men, or from the natural instinct "which nature has implanted in us for salutary purposes." (p. 238.) But the second supposition must obviously be rejected. The universal character of the conception of justice shows that it was the inevitable outcome of social life itself. Society could not exist without this conception. We must, therefore, acknowledge that "the necessity of justice to the support of society is the sole foundation of that virtue." Its unquestionable usefulness explains its general distribution, and besides, it is "the source of a considerable part of the merit ascribed to humanity, benevolence, friendship, public spirit, and other social virtues. (Ibid. Sect. iii, part ii, p. 241.)
Hume ascribed to self-love an important part in the evolution moral usages and conceptions, and he understood why some philosophers found it convenient to regard all concern for the welfare of society simply as a modification of personal interest. But there are many cases in which the moral feeling is preserved even when personal interests do not coincide with the social; therefore, in citing a number of such examples, Hume definitely concludes: "we must renounce the theory which accounts for every moral sentiment by the principle of self-love." (Sect. v, part ii, p. 256.) "The sentiments which arise from humanity, are the same in all human creatures, and produce the same approbation or censure." (Sec ix, part i, p. 310.)
And since there is no man who wishes to deserve the condemnation of others, Hume maintained that faith in God cannot be the source of morality, for religiousness does not make men moral. Many religious people, perhaps even the majority, aim to deserve "divine favor" not by virtue and by a moral life, but by performing meaningless rites, or by exalted faith in mystical sacraments. 28
While not sharing the views of Hobbes that in ancient times men lived in perpetual strife with one another, Hume was far from seeing in human nature nothing but elements of good. He recognized that man is guided in his actions by self-love, but he claimed that man also develops a sense of duty toward others.
When man reasons calmly about those of his acts that were prompted by various impressions, impulses, or passions, he feels a desire to be endowed with certain qualities, and thus the sense of duty comes to birth within him. On this point, therefore, Hume agreed with Spinoza. But in his analysis of the origin of the moral judgments of our actions, instead of recognizing their two-fold source-from feeling and from reason-Hume vacillated between them,-favoring now one and now the other. He even raised the question as to an intermediate faculty between reason and feeling, and finally expressed himself in favor of feeling. Like Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, he evidently assigned to reason only the preparation of judgments and the consideration of facts. But the decisive verdict belongs to feeling, after which the task of reason is to elaborate general rules. 29
Hume ascribed a special importance to sympathy. It softens our narrowly selfish tendencies, and, together with the general, natural benevolence of man, overcomes them. Thus, even if considerations of the utility of this or that way of acting exercise a certain influence, it is not upon them that the final decision in moral questions rests. Adam Smith, as is known, later developed this conception of sympathy and ascribed to it the primary importance in the evolution of moral principles.
Most interesting is Hume's attitude to the conception of justice. He certainly could not overlook its influence and he recognized the significance of justice in the development of moral conceptions. But either because he did not venture to ascribe a preponderance to reason in its struggle with feeling, or because he understood that in the final analysis justice is the recognition of the equality of all the members of society,-the very principle that was not recognized by the laws,-Hume forbore to break as sharply with the existing laws as he had already broken with religion.30 Accordingly, he removed justice from the realm of ethics and pictured it as something that develops independently in society, as the result of regulations imposed by the State.
In this question Hume apparently followed Hobbes, who, after having pointed out that arbitrariness (or, more correctly, the interests of the ruling classes) has always prevailed in the realm of lawmaking, completely removed Law from the realm of morality as something entirely unconnected with it. However, on this point too, as on the question of the part played by feeling and reason in the evolution of moral principles, Hume did not arrive at a definite conclusion, so that those who have written on his philosophy differ in their interpretations. 31 In general, Hume did not offer a systematic explanation of the moral conceptions, and did not create a new, well-organized system of Ethics. But not content with stereotyped explanations, he so carefully and, in spots, so brilliantly analyzed the motives of man in the infinite variety of his actions,-he ascribed so slight an influence both to religion and to egoism, as well as to considerations of the utility of our acts, that he compelled later writers to think these problems over more thoroughly than had hitherto been done. He prepared the ground for the scientific, naturalistic explanation of the moral element, but at the same time, as some of his interpreters have pointed out, he also prepared the ground for the opposite, non-rational, Kantian explanations. The influence Hume exercised upon the subsequent development of Ethics will be determined as we advance in our discussion.
One of the prominent continuators of Hume in England was Adam Smith, whose work, "The Theory of Moral Sentiment," appeared in 1759 and went through ten editions in the eighteenth century. Later Smith became particularly famous as the author of a serious scientific research in Economics,32 and his work in the field of Ethics has been frequently overlooked. But his investigation of the moral sentiments was a new and a considerable step forward, for it explained morality on a purely natural basis, as an inherent quality of human nature and not as a revelation from above, and at the same time it did not regard morality as dependent on man's considerations of the utility of this or that attitude toward his fellow men.
The chief motive force in the development of moral conceptions Smith saw in Sympathy, i.e., in the feeling inherent in man as a social being. When we approve certain acts and disapprove of others we are guided not by considerations of the social benefit or harm, as the utilitarians asserted, but we are conscious of how these actions would react upon ourselves, and there arises in us, therefore, the agreement or disagreement of our own feelings with the feelings that prompted these actions. When we witness the misery of others we are capable of living through it within ourselves, and we call this feeling co-miseration; not infrequently we rush to the aid of the suffering or of the wronged. And similarly, when witnessing the joy of others we ourselves experience a joyous emotion. We feel dissatisfied and displeased when we see evil being done to another, and we feel gratitude at the sight of good. This is a quality of human nature; it has developed from social life, and not at all from reasoning about the harm or the social utility of this or that act, as the utilitarians asserted, and Hume with them. We simply live through with others what they themselves experience, and in condemning one who has caused suffering to another, we later apply the same condemnation to ourselves if we bring sorrow to a fellow-man. Thus, little by little, our morality was evolved.33
Thus Adam Smith rejected the supernatural origin of morality and gave it a natural explanation, and at the same time he showed how the moral conceptions of man can develop aside from considerations of the utility of this or that type of mutual relations,-these considerations having been, hitherto, the only way to account for the moral element in man "without divine revelation." Moreover, Smith did not rest content with the general indication of this origin of the moral sentiments. On the contrary, he devoted the greatest part of his work to an analysis of the manner of development of various moral conceptions, taking in each case as the starting point the emotion of sympathy, regardless of all other considerations. At the end of his work he explained how all religions, from the very start, took upon themselves as a matter of course the protection and the support of useful manners and customs.
It would appear that having arrived at such an understanding of morality, Smith would have to recognize as the basis of the moral not only the feeling of sympathy, which develops in social life and which actually leads to moral judgments, but also a certain mental make-up, which is the outcome of the same sociality and which takes the form of justice, i.e., the recognition of equity among all the members of society. But while admitting the participation of both reason and feeling in the elaboration of moral judgments, Smith did not draw any line of demarcation between them.
Besides, it is also possible that at the time Smith wrote his treatise, i.e., long before the French Revolution, the conception of equity was still alien to him. Therefore, though he ascribed great importance to the value of justice in our moral judgments, he nevertheless understood justice mainly in the judicial sense-in the sense of compensation to the wronged and punishment for the offender. The sense of indignation which we experience at seeing someone wronged he ascribed to what he called the natural desire for retribution and punishment; and he considered this desire one of the bases of sociality. He added, of course, that only hurtful acts, prompted by unworthy motives, deserve punishment.34 But he did not utter a word about the equality of men,35 and, in general, he wrote about judicial justice, and not about that justice which our mind seeks, regardless of courts and their verdicts.36 But owing to this limitation we lose sight of social injustice,-class injustice which is upheld by the courts,-due to which fact society, by not protesting against it, gives it support.
As a rule, the pages devoted by Smith to the subject of Justices 37 produce the impression as of something left unsaid. It is equally impossible to determine what part in the development of morality Smith ascribed to feeling and what part to reason. But one thing stands out clearly: that Smith understood the moral element in man not as something mysterious, innate, or as a revelation from without, but as a product of sociality, slowly evolving in mankind, originating not in considerations of the utility or harmfulness of various traits of character, but as the inevitable consequence of every man's sympathy with the joys and sorrows of his fellow man.
Smith devoted a few admirable chapters [particularly Chap. iii, of part III,] which to this day have not lost their freshness and beauty, to the analysis of the natural development in man of conscience, the "impartial spectator" within us, and with it of love for dignity of character and for moral beauty. His examples are taken from actual life (sometimes from classical literature) and are full of interest to every one who thoughtfully considers the moral questions, and seeks strength, not in revelations from above, but in his own feelings and reason. In reading these pages, however, one regrets that Smith did not consider from the same point of view man's attitude to various problems of the social system, so much more that at the time when he wrote, these questions were already agitating society; and the day was approaching when these problems were to be brought forward in the form of a demand for social justice. 38
As we have seen, Smith offered only one explanation of our sympathetic attitude toward certain acts, and our attitude of condemnation toward others. It was his idea that we mentally apply these acts to ourselves and picture ourselves in the condition of the sufferer.
It would seem that in assuming this mental substitution of one-self for the one who is being wronged, Smith should have noticed that what really takes place in one's mind at the time is the recognition of equity. If I put myself mentally in the place of the wronged one, I thereby recognize our equality, and our equal capacity to feel the injury. But Smith conceives nothing of the kind. He failed to include in sympathy the element of equity and justice. In general, as Jodl remarked, he even avoided giving an objective basis to the moral judgment. Besides, Smith completely overlooked the necessity of pointing out the continuous development of the moral sentiment in man. Of course, he cannot be blamed for not having arrived at the idea of the gradual zoölogical evolution of man, to which we were brought in the nineteenth century by the study of evolution in nature. But he overlooked the lessons in goodness which primitive man was able to derive from nature, from the life of animal societies, and which were already hinted at by Grotius and Spinoza. We must fill in this omission and point out that so important a fact in the development of morality as sympathy, does not constitute a distinguishing feature of man: it is inherent in the vast majority of living creatures, and it had already been developed by all the gregarious and social animals. Sympathy is a fundamental fact of nature, and we meet it in all herd animals and in all birds nesting in common. In both cases the strongest individuals rush forward to drive away the enemy, be it beast or bird of prey. And among birds we have the instance of a bird of one species picking up the fledglings of some other species, when they fell out of the nest. This fact, as is known, greatly delighted old Goethe when he first learned of it from Eckermann.
Smith's entire work on morality aims to show that, as the result of man's very nature, morality had to develop in him. In showing how the development of character was influenced by the rules of mutuality and morality evolved by mankind, Smith spoke as a true naturalist in the realm of thought. In pointing out certain tendencies that may swerve man from the moral attitude toward others, he added that our nature contains in itself a corrective factor for this defect. Observing continually the conduct of others we arrive at certain rules as to what to do and what not to do. Thus there takes place the social education of characteristics, and thus the general rules of morality are formed. (Part III, ch. IV, pp. 221-228.) But immediately after, in the next chapter, he already asserts that the rules of life that were evolved in this manner are justly regarded as Divine Laws. "The regard to those general rules of conduct is what is properly called a sense of duty, a principle of the greatest consequence in human life, and the only principle by which the bulk of mankind are capable of directing their actions." And he adds,-"It cannot be doubted that they [the moral rules] were given us for the direction of our conduct in this life." (Part III, ch. V, p. 233.)
These remarks of Smith show to what an extent he was still bound by his time, and how difficult it was, even for a very brilliant and bold thinker, to analyze the subject of the origin of morality before men had become familiar with the fact of the revolution of social forms, as well as the judgments about these forms and the attitude of the individual toward them.
Smith did not limit himself to the explanation of the origin of morality. He analyzed many facts of everyday life in order to demonstrate the true nature of the moral attitude of men in their ordinary relations. And in this respect his attitude was the same as that of the Stoics of Ancient Greece and Rome, especially of Seneca and Epictetus. He regarded sympathy as the guiding and the deciding emotion in the evolution of morality, overlooking the importance of reason in questions of justice and equity. It is true he has a few excellent remarks on justice,39 but he does not indicate anywhere its fundamental significance in the elaboration of moral conceptions. He concentrated attention on the sense of duty. And on this point he was in complete accord with the Stoics-especially Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.
Generally speaking, Adam Smith placed ethics on a realistic basis and showed that the moral sentiments of man originated from sympathy with other men, unavoidable in social life, and that later, the education of society was carried on in this manner and the general rules of morality evolved. He demonstrated how these rules found support in the common agreement of men, and how at present we turn to them in case of doubt, as to the bases of our judgments.
By this view Smith undoubtedly prepared the ground for the understanding of morality as the natural product of social life: this morality developed slowly in man from the time of man's most primitive state, and has continued in the same direction up to the present,-always without need of external authority for its further progress. This was, indeed, the path followed by moral philosophy in the nineteenth century.
In summing up, we must note that in all the moral teachings that originated and developed in the seventeenth and the eighteenth century, striving to explain the origin of morality in a purely scientific, naturalistic way, it is the influence of the Epicurean philosophy that stands out. Almost all the foremost representatives of philosophy, especially in the eighteenth century, were the followers of the Epicurean teaching. But, while resting on the philosophy of Epicurus, the ethical doctrines of the new time divided into two different currents. The currents were united only by the fact that they both rejected the religious as well as the metaphysical interpretations of morality. Representatives of both tendencies aimed to explain the origin of the moral in a natural way, and opposed the pretensions of the Church to connect morality with religion.
One of these groups in philosophy, while recognizing with Epicurus that man strives first of all for happiness, affirmed, however, that man finds greatest happiness not in exploiting other people for his personal benefit, but in friendly mutual relations with all around him; whereas the adherents of the other bent,-the chief representative of which was Hobbes,-continued to look upon morality as upon something forcibly engrafted upon man. Hobbes and his followers looked upon morality not as the outcome of human nature but as something prescribed to it by an external force. Only, in place of the Deity and the Church they put the State and the fear of this "Leviathan"-the implanter of morality in mankind.
One myth was thus replaced by another. It must be noted that in its time the substitution of the State, based on contract, for the Church, was of great importance for political purposes. The Church traced its origin to the Divine Will: she called herself the representative of God on earth. Whereas to the State, though it freely availed itself, from time immemorial, of the support of the Church, the advanced thinkers of the eighteenth century began at once to ascribe an earthly origin: they derived the inception of the state from the covenant of men. And there is no doubt that when, at the end of the eighteenth century, there began the struggle in Europe against the autocratic power of kings "by grace of God," the doctrine of the state as originating from the social contract, served a useful purpose.
The subdivision into two camps of the thinkers who explained morality in a purely scientific, naturalistic way, is observed throughout the period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the course of time this division becomes wider and sharper. While one group of thinkers more and more comes to realize that morality is nothing but a gradual development of a sociality ingrained in man, other thinkers explain morality as the striving of man for personal happiness, rightly regarded. And two different conclusions are reached, depending on which of the two groups the thinker holds true. Some continue to affirm, like Hobbes, that man is "steeped in evil," and they see salvation only in a strictly organized central power, which restrains men from constant strife among themselves. Their ideal is a centralized State, governing the entire life of society,-and in this they go hand in hand with the Church. The others, however, maintain that only wide freedom of personality, and wide opportunity for men to enter into various agreements among themselves, will lead us to a new social system, based on just attainment of all needs.
These two views, with some intermediate steps, and also some doctrines that pay tribute more or less to the idea of the religious origin of morality, predominate at the present time. But from the moment that the theory of evolution, i.e., of the gradual development of beliefs, customs, and institutions, conquered for itself a place in science, the second view,-the one aiming at the free upbuilding of life,-gradually acquired the ascendancy.
In the next chapter we shall endeavor to trace the development of these two currents of ethical thought in the philosophy of modern times.