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§4. The Problems of Modern Moral Philosophy

§4. The Problems of Modern Moral Philosophy

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  ,  – 



Schools of modern moral philosophy

The School of Natural Law



The German Line



Francisco Suarez: –

On Law and God the Lawgiver: 

Hugo Grotius: –

On the Law of War and Peace: 

Samuel Pufendorf: –

On the Law of Nature and of Nations: 

John Locke: –

An Essay Concerning the Understanding: 

The Reasonableness of Christianity: 



Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: –

Discourse: 

Theodicy: 

Christian Wolff:

Vernuănftige Gedanken von Menschen

Tun und Lassen:

Christian August Crusius:

Anweisung vernuănftig zu Leben:

Immanuel Kant:

Grundlegung:

Critique of Practical Reason: 

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: –

Philosophy of Right: 



The Moral Sense School



The Rational Intuitionists



Third Earl of Shaftesbury: –

An Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit: 

Francis Hutcheson: –

An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of

Beauty and Virtue: 

Joseph Butler: –

Fifteen Sermons: 

David Hume: –

A Treatise of Human Nature: –

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of

Morals: 



Samuel Clarke: –

A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable

Obligations of Natural Religion: 

Richard Price: –

A Review of the Principal Questions of Morals:



Thomas Reid: –

Essays on the Active Power of the Human

Mind: 



[  ]



           



moral principles and precepts are accessible to normal reasonable persons

generally—various schools explain this in different ways—and hence that

we are fully capable of knowing our moral duties and obligations and also

fully capable of being moved to fulfill them.

. In the contrast stated in the above paragraph, three questions may

be distinguished:

First: Is the moral order required of us derived from an external source,

or does it arise in some way from human nature itself (as reason or feeling

or both), and from the requirements of our living together in society?

Second: Is the knowledge or awareness of how we are to act directly

accessible only to some, or to a few (the clergy, say), or is it accessible to

every person who is normally reasonable and conscientious?

Third: Must we be persuaded or compelled to bring ourselves in line

with the requirements of morality by some external motivation, or are we

so constituted that we have in our nature sufficient motives to lead us to

act as we ought without the need of external inducements?3

Of course, the terms I use here are both vague and ambiguous. It is

unclear what is meant by such terms as “external motivation,” or “human

nature itself,” or “normally reasonable and conscientious person,” and the

like. These terms gain their sense from how they are interpreted or rejected

by the various traditions of moral philosophy that develop within the modern

period, as we will see in due course in our examination of particular texts.

Here I think of the tradition of moral philosophy as itself a family of traditions, such as the traditions of natural law and of the moral sense schools, and

of the schools of rational intuitionism and of utilitarianism. What makes these

traditions all part of one inclusive tradition is that they use a commonly understood vocabulary and terminology. Moreover, they reply and adjust to one

another’s views and arguments so that exchanges between them are, in part,

a reasoned discussion that leads to further development.

. Looking at the three questions above, one should note that the writers

of this period more or less agree on what in fact is right and wrong, good

and bad. They do not differ about the content of morality, about what its

first principles of rights, duties and obligations, and the rest, really are. None

3. In the last two paragraphs above, I follow J. B. Schneewind, Moral Philosophy from Montaigne

to Kant: An Anthology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ), intro. to vol. , p. .



[  ]



  ,  – 



of them doubted that property ought to be respected; all of them affirmed

the virtues of fidelity to promises and contracts, of truthfulness and beneficence and charity, and much else. The problem for them was not the content of morality but its basis: How we could know it and be moved to

act from it. Particular moral questions are examined for the light they

throw on those matters. The moral sense school of Shaftesbury, Butler,

and Hutcheson gave one answer; the rational intuitionists Clarke, Price,

and Reid another; Leibniz and Crusius yet another.

To refer again to the three questions above, Hume and Kant both in

their different ways affirm in each case the second alternative. That is, they

believe that the moral order arises in some way from human nature itself

and from the requirements of our living together in society. They also believe that the knowledge or awareness of how we are to act is directly

accessible to every person who is normally reasonable and conscientious.

And finally, they believe that we are so constituted that we have in our

nature sufficient motives to lead us to act as we ought without the need

of external sanctions, at least in the form of rewards bestowed and punishments imposed by God or the state. Indeed, both Hume and Kant are about

as far as one can get from the view that only a few can have moral knowledge and that all or most people must be made to do what is right by

means of such sanctions.4



§. The Relation between Religion and Science

. The writers we study are each much concerned (in their own ways) with

the relation between modern science and Christianity and accepted moral

beliefs. Here, of course, modern science means, as I have said, Newtonian

physics. The problem was how the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo,

of Newton and Huyghens and others, were to be understood in relation

to religion and morals.

Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant answer this question in different ways, but

they face a common problem. In some respects, of these three Spinoza’s

way is the most radical: his pantheism incorporates the new scientific and

4. Schneewind says this of Kant (ibid., p. ), but I believe it holds of Hume as well.



[  ]



           



deterministic view of the world while preserving important elements of a

religious (but heterodox) doctrine. His view is one that neither Leibniz nor

Kant can accept, and they are on guard against falling into Spinozism, socalled, something then to be avoided at all costs. (Likewise, in the late

seventeenth century, falling into Hobbism was to be similarly avoided.)

Leibniz was particularly worried about this, and some think that he did not

succeed in avoiding Spinozism and that there are deep Spinozistic elements

in his view.

Of the writers we study, Leibniz is the great conservative in the best

sense of the term. That is, he fully accepts orthodox Christianity and its

moral view, and he confronts and masters—and indeed contributes to—

the new science of his day, making use of it in his philosophical theology.

He is a great conservative in the way Aquinas was in the thirteenth century:

Aquinas confronted the new Aristotelianism and used it for his own aims

and purposes in his magnificent Summa Theologica, his restatement of Christian theology. Similarly, Leibniz incorporates modern science into traditional philosophical theology; and in this enlarged and revised scheme he

tries to resolve all the outstanding problems. Thus, for example, he uses

the new science in his definition of truth, in his distinction between necessary and contingent truths, in his account of free will and God’s foreknowledge, and in his vindication of God’s justice in the Theodicy. From our standpoint, Leibniz’s moral philosophy—his metaphysical perfectionism, as I

shall call it—is less original than the others are, but it nevertheless represents an important doctrine and one particularly instructive in contrast to

Hume’s and Kant’s.

. Hume may seem to be an exception to the idea that the writers we

study are concerned with the relation between modern science and religion.

Now, it is true that Hume is different in that he tries to get along entirely

without the God of religion. Hume believes in the Author of Nature; but

his Author is not the God of Christianity, not the object of prayer or worship. Spinoza, by contrast, presented his view as pantheism—certainly a

religious view, though very different from Christian and Jewish orthodoxy.

But Hume does without the God of religion altogether, and he does this

without lament or a sense of loss. It is characteristic of Hume that he has

no need for religion; moreover, he thinks religious belief does more harm

than good, that it is a corrupting influence on philosophy and a bad influ[  ]



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§4. The Problems of Modern Moral Philosophy

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