2 AUGUST 1845, Page 14



The lEements of Morality, including 'Polity. By William Whewell, D.D., Master of Trinity College and Professor of Metal Philosophy in the University of Cambridge ; Author of the 'lllisteryandPhilosophy of,the Inductive Selerares." In two volumes.

TRAVELS, Parker.

Lettere from Italy. By J. T. Headley.-- ............... Miley and Putnam. BAOGEAPET, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, Esq., BA.; composed chiefly of his Letteta.

By C. E. Leslie, N.A. Second edition Longman and Co. Pianos,

Whiteluill, or the Days -Of Charles ; au Elstorkal.Eamance. By the Anther of " Whitefriars." Jo three volumes Mortimer.


le-we set aside the Divine commands as conveyed in revelation, there seem to be but two sources whence we can look for the principles or origin of ethics. One of these is utility ; the other something like Cud- worth's "eternal fitness of things." As regards flexibility of operation and clearness of exposition, the principle of utility has the advantage ; whilat elevation and permanency are on the side of an eternal and certain law. The advocate of utility cannot escape from the difficulty, that a very high tone of morality is altogether out of place in many states of society, except by falling back upon that abstract law which he opposes, or by some strained extension touching the self-satisfaction of the excellent individuals. There is, too, something undignified, not to say huckstering, in appealing to gain at every turn, without any reference to some nobler principle of action: to heroic virtue, or even to a lofty sense of honour, the principle of utility is scarcely applicable except by some over-refined " explanations " ; nor does it seem consistent with the fact that there is a conscience in most men, which prevents them from doing something or another without re- gard to external influences—in common parlance, they "cannot do its' There seems, moreover, to be a certain innate sense of right and wrong, that, whenfairly appealed to, dominates overinterest orpassion, evenamong the most savage peoples. Examples to the contrary may be readily enough produced, but individual exceptions do not overturn a principle. It is also to be considered whether the savages are always wrong, or whether the appeal is understood. A person appearing under equivocal circumstances, not speaking their language, or speaking it brokenly and without any knowledge of their ideas, is in no condition to touch the arcana of human nature.

But should we treat morals as we do physics, and, disregarding their origin, look at them in ease, here is a third mode of considering the question, which may be termed the historical. This would involve an examination of mankind in all the various aspects by which wear& enable us to consider them, from the lowest stage of savage brutality to the highest refinement which civilization has reached. For example, in the very worst state of ignorance and brutality, the idea of property— of possession—is always found. Family also exists, but it seems to exist as property. The man's wives, the man's children are valued as part of Lis posasions. Beyonds capricious favour, Aids is perhaps only shown by individuals, the family affections scarcely exist. Parents, brethren, wife, and child, are abandoned in sickness or difficulty—when- ever, in short, the trouble overgrows their value. They are regretted, or pursued, or revenged, rather as a loss.- than a grief. They are parted with wholly or for a time on a sufficient consideration: for jealousy at the wife, in a proper sense, does not seem- to prevail among the lower tribes ; it is rather,anger than jealousy—the same feeling that would he shown if any one took away his weapons or any other chattel. Wherever food can be found to support people, society exists. In Australasia and the adjacent Polynesian groups, the germs of the state are to be found, though scarcely perhaps of a government- The tribe assembles to disease and settle certain public events ; but no regular ehieftain or distinction of caste exists. Men of courage, skill, or shrewdness, attain considers,- ton, and whilst the business is in hand a temporary influence;, but, in the werds of Washington, " influence is not government." sli:des, and in consequence an implied.acknowledgment of right and wrong, without respect, it would seem, to any direct benefit, appear everywhere to obtabs, however puerile or senseless some of them may be. Hence it may be in- ferred, that property, an innate sense of right or wrong, the germs of society and of the state, must be inherent in human nature, since they are found in its lowest condition, where men rather vegetate than live. To pursue this development of morals and its subordinates of law and politics further, would be too extensive a task for a periodical journal. In The Elements of Morality, including Polity, Dr. Whewell does not adopt either of these three modes of treating the subject; but memo to have designed a system of his own. In his preface the Doctor observes, that "Morality and the Philosophy of Morality differ in the same degree as Geometry and the Philosophy of Geometry. Of these two subjects, Geometry consists, of a series of positive and definite pro- positions, deduced one from another in succession, by rigorous reasoning, and all resting upon certain definitions and self-evident axioms. The Philosophy of Geometry is quite a different subject : it embraces such inquiries as these—Whence is the cogency of geometrical proof? what is the evidence of the itEt0EIS and definitions ? what are the faculties by which we bee,ome aware of their truth ? mid the like." The purpose of Dr. Whewell was to write on Morality, and to produce a species, ot work that should be analogonslo Euclid's Elements; furnishing "a eon- fleeted system of moral truth," and affording a basis on which a system or at leaat a book on the Philosophy of Morality might be raised. In carrying out this object, Dr. Whewell divides his work into six sections. The first contains the Elementary Notions and Definitions on which he subsequently rests his moral rules or decisions ; the second book embraces a view of what the author calls "Jun," but which, as he treats it, is rather a review of Roman and British law, so far as they deal with general subjects, as opposed to the special laws of national austoms or man- ners. Book the third considers what is usually understood by morals, and relates to Virtues and Duties. The fourth treats of Religion ; and,

after-a-short-notice of _natural religion, consists for the most part of texts, from Scripture, Mating to social and personal practice, and the govern- ment of the Church, with euforcements by the author. Polity is divided into two books ; one treating of the State and of Government, the other -rtf International Law. The first and most obvious objection to Dr. WheweIrs plan is, that there is slight analogy between mathematieal and moral truths, if there be ,any at all. Geometry is a strict science ; its truths are demonstrable to 411 whose minds have been sufficiently cultivated to understand the pro- ,oess ; and its elementary truths are so simple and self-evident that they are readily comprehended by any educated persons that will take the trouble; whilst the axioms, though put forward dogmatically, yet are .seen on the least consideration to be evident. But the origin or first principles of morals, and still more their application and their confliots, are matters of doubt and dispute to this day. Hence, we feel a want of something to rest upon in Dr. Whewell's Elements of Morality, in- cluding Polity. The fwidamentals are assumed or asserted. It is true,

• indeed, that many of them are truths that would not be disputed ; but this is not always the case. Perhaps his most successful passage on this ,00nfessedly difficult ground is where he shows an abstract or rather ne- cessary tight in the state to certain powers : but he rather suggests the argument than usesit ; and when he maintains that the right of men to landed property is founded on the territorial right of the state, he advances m principle which may be doubted. It is clearly opposed to Locke's more intelligible law of appropriation, as well as to the common sease and common practice of mankind. So shocking, indeed, would such a claim he to the instinctive sense of men, that the most unscrupulous conquerors have not ventured to confiscate property on such a plea, but have either slain its possessors as enemies or trumped up some charge of the nature of treason.

It may also be objected, that the topics are too various and extensive for a work professing not to be a compilation but of originality and au- thority. Law in its leading principles is indeed founded on morals, and wherever it confessedly runs counter to them it is defective ; but there are many branches of morals which it cannot attempt to enforce or regulate; and sometimes, for prudential if not for moral reasons, it must permit injustice to be done by adherence to its own rules. To point out these differences, and to explain these apparent anomalies, is the proper object of the moral philosopher; but scarcely to enter into long expositions of municipal law, because the mind which has been much engaged in the one kind of study is hardly qualified for the other, and in law may not have the requisite technical knowledge. This want Dr. Whewell candidly • admits, and he has had the second book revised by a friend ; but notwith-

• standing this care, errors may be detected. For instance, he states (page 108 voL I.) that "the English law punishes rape with death," though that penalty has been abrogated for some years.

It may also be doubted whether religious or Christian morality is well ...mixed up with what may be called natural morality, or morals deducible by mason; sines wherever revelation speaks there is an end of reasoning. The separation of polity and ethics is not so great ; at least their prin- atiples spring from the same sources, and the cast of mind required for 'their study is much the same.

The plan of a work, however, is generally of less consequence than its .!execution; and perhaps that of The Elements of Morality and Polity may disappoint those who have formed their expectations from the re- pute of the author. In the more expository parts, where he is engaged in putting forth his axioms and definitions, the matter is very often commonplace disguiser in pedantic phraseology ; and furnishes a rather striking example of the form of profundity without its depth. Dr. Whewell seems to have drawn his ideas less from life and reflection than from moral treatises and speculation. His style has all the tedious prolixity of the old schoolmen ; becoming difficult to understand in pro- portion to the writer's efforts to be distinct. He draws his instances of heroic virtue from classical history, and sometimes where fable is said to mingle with it—as Regulus and Virginius ; though, as many have ob- served, Regulus did no more than not violate his duty and not break his parole. The majority of officers in the British service are prepared to act the part of Regulus every day of their lives. Chesterfield long ago pointed out these schoolboy anomalies ; but he did not, any more than Dr. Whewell, explain that the point of honour not existing in the ancient world, or at least existing very obscurely, an action which in modern life is merely becoming an honourable man might with the ancients be heroic virtue.

In the more dogmatic or doctrinal parts, where Dr. Whewell is apply- ing morality—laying down rules of action or settling questions of casuistry—the style is plainer, though still diffuse, and wearing the air of a sermon or a lecture, without always very greatly rising beyond the tone of that class of composition. He continually pursues an idea as if he engaged to hunt it down, and often balances backwards and forwards till it is not easy to tell where he rests or to land in any conclusion. In so large a field as jurisprudence, ethics, Christian morals, polity, and national law, handled by a man whose post as Professor of Moral Philo- sophy in the University of Cambridge implies capacity for the sub- ject as well as a constant familiarity with its literature, a large accu- mulation of the leading points of each question could not well be avoided. In this largeness of subject and fulness of survey the chief value of the work appears to us to consist, rather than in any soundness of exposition or felicity of execution. The tone of the morality is low. Dr. Whewell is of .the school of Taley, but without the searching shrewdness of his master. To the author 'of Moral and Political Philosophy authority was nothing ; establish- ment was nothing : he subjected everything to the touchstone. A cer- tain hardness of intellect conjoined with a worldlipess of mind, if the 'first did not induce the last, disposed him to incline to the useful in rather a_profitable sense ; but his leanings were to the practices of mankind,..not -30,personages or institutions. He looked at existing thiggs to find a =son for them, and decided casuistical niceties in a conventional and respect- ,abk way. Ur. W.hewell has Palsy's leanings without his practical and • independent.genius. Ile seems unable to escape from the prejudices a the parson and the principal Be looks at British law and history to justify their broader features. " Whatever is is right " in Church and • State, unless where the State lias been tot-coat° yield a little to Romanis' ts or Dissenters. The State, lie holds, must be.connected with the thurch,bi order to enable it to confess or support the truth, and to educate the people, not only in religion, but in morals enforced by an authority. Where the mass of people are in ignorant error, [Ireland,] there the reli- gion of the enlightened few may rightly be established, both that the State may profess the truth and the poor people be converted to it. Bishops rightly sit in the House of Lords, the Sovereign is rightly head of the Church, foreign supremacy is not to be heard of; but if the people should please to offer the crown to the head of the National Church, he may rightly take it, without any of the ostensible compunction whidi Richard the Third thought St to display at Crosby Place. The educa- tion of the country ought to be placed in the hands of the Church. It is true, the unfortunate number of Dissenters renders this plan imprac- ticable ; but the Church ought to have money enough given it to teach all ; audit' they will not come and be taught, why we suppose the Church must keep the money. However, hear the Doctor. " The polity of an Established Church puts no difficulty in the way of the most complete toleration of Dissenters. They nsay he 'freely allowed, under such a pe .lity, to wooship according to their own rules,and to teach their own opinions with out restrictiou,solong as they keep their teachhig clear of sedition. But if the State wish to compel the whole of the population to be educated, then, indeed, the question of Dissent becomes a very difficult one. For to compel Dissenters to have their children taught by the teaching of the Established Church, would be a vio- lation of toleration; and to accept the thin g of Dissenters as answering the purpose of the State equally with the teaching of the Church, is to repudiate the view of the Clinmh which its establishment implies. To give the Church the means of educating all, and to leave those who reject its education to their own teachers, appears to be the nearest approximation to a universal education of the people which can be made under the polity of an Established Church." • • •

It is, of course, not meant that such education should be forced upon the peo- ple; but •that education,according to the doctrine of the Established Church, should be offered to all who are willing to receive it. Without some provision for do* this, the National Church is, as we have said, incompletely established. The ex- istence of a large body of Dissenters by no means diminishes the importance of making such a provision. The State, regarding the Church as the teacher of

truth, will naturally, by means of the Church, encourage and facilitate from the of men ernar,to truth. In the eyes of the friends of the Intablished it must be a natiosal benefit when men are converted ham Dissent to the Chsars'; Dr. Johnson has been held by some to be lax and worldly in his moral views ; yet he somewhere says— "Life. is cheaply saved with loss of wealth, And virtue well preserved with loss &life."

The Principal of Trinity and Professor of Moral Philosophy in the 'Uni- versity of -Cambridge hat his doubts about this latter dilemma.

"If we suppose a good Man to he led, under the terror of immediate death„not otherwise to be avoided, to tell a lie or to stab the keeper of his prison, or a woman to give up her person to the lust of a man, we cannot suppose this to take place without great anguish and strong abhorrence of the acts thus committed. The intense vehemence with which man clings to life may overmaster this abhorrence; and even the best estimate which the person at the moment can form of the course of duty may direct such acts. But a person would not be virtuous who could commit them without repugnance or look upon them with compl Any acquiescence in the acts except as great though inevitable evils, any i ferenee with regard to the violation of the usual raked' morality, is at once immoral. When the act is over, there has been a dire and mortal struggle between moral rules and. self-presernition; and if we rejoice that we are preserved, we must still regret that, even far a moment, the general rules of duty were cempelled to give way. We cannot look upon lying, or homicide, or being an instrument of luat, with approbation; even if; under the circumstances, we thiuk that the acts have been in this case excusable. In such cases of necessity, we may excuse the act, but we cannot admire it. On the contrary, in such cases, our admiration is be- stowed on the other side. We admire a man who stiffens death rather than tell'a lie; we admire Socrates, who would not escape from unjust legal bondage and death, even when he -could do so without violence; we admire a woman who suffers death rather than submit to violation. It is plain that those who act thus conform to the law of duty: those who in such cases of necessity act other.. wise, may do only what in such cases is excusable or allowable; but the moralist must not let them euppose that they take the course which is alone right or emi- nently commendable.'

Surely, as Burke said of another divine,* "the theatre is a better school of moral sentiments." In a certain class of dramas the he- roine always carries a dagger, or the ravisher wears one so that it can readily be snatched. Even the world is better. A gentleman may in- sinuate a lie if he think he can escape detection, but he is over ready to

risk his life to resent the imputation. To make up for this laxity, Dr.

Whewell decides' in opposition to Johnson, that an author publishing anonymously has no right to deny the authorship ilithe is questioned • on the other hand, he settles that" not at home" is justifiable both in master and man, provided the man is read a lecture.


There are various understood conventions in society, according to whith words, spoken or written under particular circumstances, have a meaning different from that which the general laws of language would give them. I have al noticed such phrases as I am your obedient servant, at the foot of a letter; whi , though not literally true, is not to be called a lie. The tonvention is hereto established that no one is for a moment misled by it. In the same way, if, when I wish not to be interrupted by visitors, I write upon my door, Not at home and if there be a common understanding to that•effect, this is no more a lie than if I were to write, Not tdbe seen.

But if I pat the same words in the mouth of a servant, and if the con- vention be not regularly established in-all classes of society, the ease is different. It is a violation of duty in me to make the servant tell a lie: it is an offence against his moral culture. He may understand the convention to be so fully established in -the class with which my intercourse lies, that the words, thorigh not literally true, umwey no false belief: In this case, he may use them, and! may direct him to use them, blamelessly. But it is my duty to ascertain that he does thus understand the worde.as a conventional form; and in order to give them this character, he should not be allowed to deviate from the form, or to add any false circumstance—as-that his.meater has just gone out, or the like.

There-are better things in the volumes than those we lurve been deal*


with; good explanations of latent reasons for things, which have not been expounded before, because opinion perhaps was scarcely ripe for the ex- position. These do not predominate, and we can only find room for one.


There is and must be a difference between what statesmen feel and think in their private capacity, and their sentiments and opinions as statesmen. Their ..designs as virtuous statesmen may be very different from their wishes as vir- tuous individuals. For as virtuous statesmen, they can design only such things as the State can perform with safety, consistency, and a due regard to the claims of its own subjects. A man who is truthful, honest, just, humane, and reasonable -as an individual, will endeavour, if he be a statesman, to be also truthful, honest, just, humane, and reasonable on the part of the State. But he will often find many impediments, which will prevent his directing the acts of the State in such a manner as to conform to the duties of truth, justice, and benevolence, and to the

dictates of reason. He has to overcome rooted habits, vested interests, ancient pre- judices, and natural diversities of opinion, among those whose consent is neces- sary to action. •He has to guide himself by a due regard to the past actions of the State, and the nature of its moral agency, as distinct from that of indi- viduals. These are difficulties, not arising merely from accident, or from some- thing wrong, but necessarily belonging to the nature of the case.