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§7. The Concluding Section of the Treatise

§7. The Concluding Section of the Treatise

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  

of things—principles seen to be necessary and self-evident by theoretical

reason, like the axioms of geometry. To Hume this greater stability and

immutability is simply an illusion, as these ideas and principles cannot be

sustained. The deeper and more secure foundations for morals alleged by

other philosophical doctrines do not exist. And in any case, what can be

more immutable than nature itself, of which human nature is but a part?

All very well, one might say, but Hume hasn’t bothered to answer

questions people often ask, for example: Why should we be moral? This

question, though, is no more a live question for him than it is for Kant.

Neither of them is concerned in the least with rational egoists who want

to be persuaded that following virtue is to their advantage or for their good.

He thinks that it is so obvious that this course is for our good that those

who don’t understand it are dupes. On this, see his reply to the sensible

knave in section  of the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and his

discussion of the fancied monster in the early paragraphs of section  of

the same work. That he does think the answer to be obvious is indicated

by his short answer to it in the first half of the last paragraph of the Treatise

(), where he considers the happiness and dignity of virtue. In realizing

our desire for a character acquired from our life in society, we achieve new

luster in the eyes of others and gain the peace and inward satisfaction of

being able to bear our own survey. This is about all the answer he bothers

to give.

. In the third paragraph, Hume urges an advantage of his system of

ethics over those of Clarke and Hutcheson (or so I interpret him). He remarks that “all lovers of virtue” must be pleased to see that moral distinctions are derived from so noble a source as sympathy and that they disclose

the “generosity and capacity of human nature.” Hume takes it to be plain

from ordinary life that “a sense of morals is a principle inherent in the soul”

and one that powerfully affects us. He continues in paragraph :

But this sense must certainly acquire new force, when reflecting on

itself, it approves of those principles, from whence it is deriv’d, and

finds nothing but what is great and good in its rise and origin. Those

who resolve the sense of morals into original instincts of the human

mind, may defend the cause of virtue with sufficient authority; but

[  ]

   

want the advantage, which those possess [as does the author of the

Treatise], who account for that sense by an extensive sympathy with

mankind. According to the latter system [the system of this book], not

only virtue must be approv’d of, but also the sense of virtue: And not

only that sense, but also the principles, from whence it is deriv’d. So

that nothing is presented on any side, but what is laudable and good.


This is an important statement. Hume is saying that his science of human nature also shows that our moral sense is reflectively stable: that is, that

when we understand the basis of our moral sense—how it is connected

with sympathy and the propensities of our nature, and the rest—we confirm

it as derived from a noble and generous source. This self-understanding

roots our moral sense more solidly and discloses to us the happiness and

dignity of virtue (T:). This is one advantage he claims for his system

over those of Clarke and Hutcheson; for in their views the why of the fitness

of things, or of the sense of morals, remains opaque: it has no intelligible

connection with natural human affections and desires. Hume thinks he has

laid out—as an anatomist of human nature—all the facts needed to convince us that we should accept and be happy with our moral sentiments,

with our nature as it is. This is all part of what I have called his fideism of


Here we should note a remarkable feature of Hume’s fideism. One

might suppose offhand that of course the moral sense must confirm itself

and so be reflectively stable. What other criterion does that sense have but

itself to set against its own judgments? This thought is soon abandoned

once we recall those later anatomists of human nature and its moral psychology—Marx and Nietzsche, Freud and Pareto (to mention several)—

whose views can undermine and put in doubt our common moral sentiments. Indeed, such undercutting views were not uncommon in Hume’s

day, as the cases of Hobbes, Mandeville, and La Rochefoucauld remind us.

A unique feature of Hume among the great moralists is that he is happy

and contented with what he is. He is utterly without lament or sense of

loss, with no trace of romantic anguish and self-pity. He doesn’t complain

against the world, a world that for him is a world without the God of

religion, and the better for it.

[  ]

  

Appendix: Hume’s Disowning the Treatise

The Treatise was published anonymously and never publicly acknowledged

by Hume in his lifetime, although it was acknowledged posthumously both

in My Own Life and in the Advertisement to the first posthumous edition

of the Essays and Treatises of . In that Advertisement he also disowned

the Treatise. He said:

Most of the principles and reasonings, contained in this volume, were

published in a work of three volumes, called A Treatise of Human Nature:

a work which the Author had projected before he left College, and

which he wrote and published not long after. But not finding it successful, he was sensible of his error in going to press too early, and he cast

the whole anew in the following pieces, where some negligences in

his former reasoning and more in the expression, are, he hopes, corrected. Yet several writers, who have honored the Author’s Philosophy

with answers, have taken care to direct all their batteries against that

juvenile work, which the Author never acknowledged, and have affected to triumph in any advantages, which they imagined, they had

obtained over it: A practice very contrary to all the rules of candour and

fair-dealing, and a strong instance of those polemical artifices, which

bigotted zeal thinks itself authorized to employ. Henceforth, the Author desires that the following Pieces may alone be regarded as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles.

To what does Hume refer as “some negligences in his former reasoning”? Two are connected, I conjecture, with the view of sympathy. It is

noteworthy that in the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals the role

of sympathy is assumed by what Hume calls the principle of humanity;

there is an instructive footnote explaining why he does this. It reads as


It is needless to push our researches so far as to ask, why we have

humanity or fellow-feeling with others. It is sufficient, that this is experienced to be a principle in human nature. We must stop somewhere

in our examination of causes; and there are, in every science, some

[  ]

   

general principles, beyond which we cannot hope to find any principle

more general. No man is absolutely indifferent to the happiness and

misery of others. The first has a natural tendency to give pleasure; the

second pain. This every one may find in himself. It is not probable,

that these principles can be resolved into principles more simple and

universal. . . . But if it were possible, it belongs not to the present

subject. (E:–n.)

Perhaps Hume felt that in the Treatise he had pushed the account of

sympathy too far. He may also have realized that it explained imparted

feeling, which was not what he wanted; and that, as presented, his account

relied on a dubious idea of the self, which he came to think mistaken. If

this was his view, he seems correct in thinking the principle of humanity

to be superior. Nevertheless, it is melancholy to see that he disowned the

Treatise with its many wonderful parts lacking improved or matching replacements anywhere else.

[  ]


L 

His Metaphysical Perfectionism

[The two Leibniz lectures were delivered between the fourth and fifth Kant

lectures. They may be read on their own, or in the context of the argument

of the second half of the Kant lectures.—Ed.]

§. Introduction

. Our aims in taking up Leibniz (–) are modest. Like Kant’s, his

philosophical doctrine is comprehensive and extremely complex, and we

can only touch upon several matters relevant to our study of Kant’s moral

philosophy. Leibniz was the dominant figure in Germany in philosophy in

Kant’s time, and Kant must have carefully studied his published works, four

of which we read: the Discourse (), the New System (), Nature and

Grace (), and the Vindication (an appendix to the Theodicy []). Much

of Leibniz’s voluminous writing was not published in his lifetime (many

are unfinished, or short pieces); the New Essays, for example, did not appear

until the mid-s. It was Wolff who made Leibniz’s system widely known

in Germany, though in a rather superficial form.

Had Kant died in the mid-s or s, he would perhaps still be

known to historians of philosophy as a minor if somewhat interesting figure

much influenced by Leibniz. The reason for looking at Leibniz is that, while

Kant went beyond these influences and developed his own distinctive views,

the fact remains that Leibniz’s ideas often shape Kant’s mature doctrine in

[  ]

      

striking and subtle ways. We examine some of these as time permits to

deepen our understanding of Kant.

. There are five matters I wish to emphasize, although we won’t discuss

all five in the two lectures devoted to Leibniz, but will consider some as

we proceed later on. They are the following:

First, the idea of philosophy as apology, as the defense of faith. This

idea is marked in the Discourse, Nature and Grace, the Vindication, and of

course in the Theodicy, which we don’t read. The writers we study are much

concerned with the relation between modern science and Christianity, and

with science and accepted moral beliefs.1 Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant answer

these questions 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 deterministic view of the world while

preserving important features 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, so-called, something then to be avoided at

all costs. (Likewise, in the late seventeenth century, falling into Hobbism

was similarly to be avoided.) Leibniz was particularly worried about this,

and some think that he did not succeed 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 accepted an orthodox Christian view,

and he confronted and mastered—indeed, he contributed 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 incorporated modern science into traditional philosophical theology; and in this enlarged and revised scheme he tried to

resolve all the outstanding problems. Thus, for example, he used 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. Even further, Leibniz

intended the Discourse as part of a larger plan to reunify the Protestant

1. This paragraph and the next reprise material from the Introductory Lecture, §. [Ed.]

[  ]

  

denominations and beyond that to reunify Catholics and Protestants. He

hoped that its framework of thought would enable the leading theological

disputes to be resolved.2 From our standpoint, Leibniz’s moral philosophy—his metaphysical perfectionism, as I shall call it—is less original than

the others’, but it nevertheless represents an important doctrine and one

particularly instructive in contrast to Hume and Kant.

Another idea is that of moral philosophy as importantly a study of the

ethics of creation, that is, of the principles of good and evil and of right

and wrong that guide the divine will in the creation of the world. This idea

of moral philosophy is evident in the Theodicy and the Vindication, but it

is plain in the other things we read as well. It is also closely connected with

the previous idea of philosophy as the defense of faith. Although Leibniz

argues in a familiar way in the Theodicy that God exists and out of moral

necessity creates the best of all possible worlds (Part I, paragraphs –),

this part of the work is brief. For the most part, he seems to take this for

granted as a doctrine of faith.

Like other apologetic writers, Leibniz tries to meet objections to Christian faith and wants to show that it is fully compatible with reasonable

belief. Faith is defended by maintaining that, from the point of view of

faith, the objections raised against it fail to show it to be either unreasonable

or incoherent. To affirm the faith, one need not prove its beliefs. Rather, it

suffices to rebut objections, and for this it suffices to state certain possibilities

showing that the objections may be false. This establishes that the objections are not conclusive, and so faith stands. So if Leibniz can say how God

can both foresee and permit Judas’ sin, say, without God’s being blameworthy, then the apologetic purpose of the Theodicy succeeds.

A third idea is that of the most perfect state of things: this is found at

the end of the Discourse, in Nature and Grace, and of course in the Theodicy.

A brief statement of it occurs in Nature and Grace §. This is a traditional

idea, but Leibniz’s version of it contains striking aspects found later in Kant.

Here Leibniz speaks of our entering as members into the City of God by

virtue of our reason; that City is the most perfect state, formed and governed by the greatest and the best of all monarchs. In it there is no crime

2. See Robert Sleigh, Leibniz and Arnauld: A Commentary on Their Correspondence (New Haven:

Yale University Press, ), p. .

[  ]

      

without punishment, no good actions without proportionate recompense,

and, finally, as much virtue and happiness as possible. And note particularly

that this most perfect state does not disturb nature or disrupt its laws; but

by the very order of natural things as given by preestablished harmony,

“nature itself leads to grace, and grace in making use of nature, perfects

it.” Recall KP:, where Kant says that the moral law (when we follow it)

“gives to the sensible world, as sensuous nature, the form of an intelligible

world” without interfering with its laws.

An analogous idea of the highest good is prominent in the dialectic of

the second Critique in connection with the postulates of practical faith; here

its role seems quite problematic and gives rise to serious questions of interpretation. Later we’ll have to consider in what ways Kant’s idea of the

highest good resembles Leibniz’s most perfect state. Sometimes Kant takes

an idea found in Leibniz and uses it in a very different way, as when in

the first Critique he treats the idea of the highest systematic unity of nature

not as a metaphysical truth but as a regulative idea to guide speculative

reason in ordering the knowledge of the understanding. We shall ask: Does

Kant do something similar with the idea of the highest good, and is his use

of it consistent with his account of the moral law?

The two remaining ideas of Leibniz that I want to touch upon I consider

in this and in the next lecture. One of these is the idea of metaphysical perfectionism, which Kant views as a form of heteronomy in both the Groundwork

(II:–) and the second Critique (f.). This idea I examine today.

The other idea is that of freedom and its relation to Leibniz’s idea of

a complete concept of an individual person. Kant criticizes this idea in the

second Critique () as no better than “the freedom of a turnspit, which

when once wound up also carries out its motions of itself.” Leibniz’s idea

of freedom I take up next time, but as preparation, I survey his predicatein-subject account of truth in section .

§. Leibniz’s Metaphysical Perfectionism

. One feature of this view, as I have said, is that it is an ethics of creation:

it specifies principles that lie in God’s reason and guide God in selecting

the best of all possible worlds, the world most fitting to create. For Leibniz,

[  ]

  

God is the absolutely perfect being (Discourse:§), and God would act imperfectly should God act less perfectly than God is capable of acting (ibid.:§).

Therefore, since God is omnipotent (omnipotence is a perfection of

God), and God knows which world is the most perfect (omniscience is

another perfection of God), God creates the best, that is, the most perfect,

of all possible worlds. Thus the world that exists is the best of all possible

worlds. Not to believe this is unworthy of faith, for it is not to believe that

God is perfect in wisdom and goodness.

. Leibniz occasionally states principles that characterize the best of all

possible worlds. For example, he says that in whatever manner God might

have created the world, it would always have been regular and in a certain

order. For any world must have laws: “God, however, has chosen the most

perfect [possible world], that is to say, the one which [of those possible] is

at the same time the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena,” as

illustrated by “the case [of ] a geometric line [consider, e.g., a circle], whose

construction was easy, but whose properties and effects are extremely remarkable and of great significance” (Discourse:§).

Leibniz adds that the manner of the perfection of the world is conveyed

only imperfectly by such comparisons, but they help us to conceive in at

least some fashion what cannot be otherwise expressed. The world that

exists is the best of all possible worlds, best in the sense of the most perfect

that could have existed. This is so since God is absolutely perfect, and God

would have acted imperfectly if God had created a world different from

ours, even in the least manner.

. Now, besides being an ethics of creation, Leibniz’s metaphysical perfectionism has the following feature:

There exists a moral order in the universe fixed and given by the divine

nature (in Leibniz’s case), an order prior to and independent of us that

flows from the divine perfections, and this order specifies the appropriate moral ideals and conceptions for human virtues, as well as the

grounds of the principles of right and justice.

Since God’s perfection implies the moral perfections, God is a model for

us and is to be imitated as far as this is possible and fitting for free and

intelligent spirits like ourselves. The moral life is a form of the imitatio dei

(Discourse:§§, , ; and Nature and Grace: §).

[  ]

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§7. The Concluding Section of the Treatise

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