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THE

PHILOMATHIC JOURNAL,

JAN. 1825.

THE

HISTORY OF ETHICS.

When I undertook to lecture on Ethics, I had not the presumption to hope that it would be in my power to present to my auditory any thing absolutely new , but it was my object, and it remains so, to produce, on a subject always important, something which may be generally useful. The syllabus which has been submitted to your consideration is of so general a kind, as to preclude any very close discussion of those hypotheses which it will be necessary to examine: and the whole that can be attempted will be, to define principles as clearly as possible, and to trace their action, as well upon the various branches of society, as upon the individual himself influenced by them. If I shall be able to do this at all to your satisfaction,-if

, in beguiling a few wintry hours, I shall awaken the attention of any one individual to the great law of his nature, which associates him with his fellow-men, and with his God, and succeed in explaining the duties inseparable from it,-I shall be more than compensated; and your indulgent patience will not be exercised in vain. Such are my humble pretensions, and I submit them to your candour.

The term Ethics signifies manners,- or, rather, the regulation and cultivation of manners,—which attention to conduct, deeply influencing both ourselves and others, is expressed better by the appellation of morals. Plato distinguishes then into three branches. Moral Philosophy, regarding man in his individual capacity, was called Ethics; when it related to him in his family-relations, it was denominated Economics : but, extending to the larger confederation of general society, it received the name of Politics. To the latter of these, Plato

VOL. II. PART I.

B

principally directed his attention, although he wrote upon the whole. These distinctions have been less respected in modern disquisitions; and Ethics have been properly understood to comprehend morals in all their branches, emanating from the individual, diffusing themselves through his immediate connexions, and spreading over all the face of society. Nor does it appear possible to separate morals in their principle, from an operation as extensive as the relations of life, and the influence of the individual,-his duties being commensurate with his capacities.

In tracing the History of Morals, which is the subject of the present lecture, the mind naturally reposes upon Socrates as the first philosopher who reduced morals to system, uncovered their source, and applied them practically to the duties of the individual, and his relations to others. The philosophy which preceded this illustrious man related to nature, and might be called speculative; but he directed knowledge to purposes of moral utility-renounced such sciences as appeared to him to conduce little or nothing to this great design,-gathered the scattered precepts of a remote antiquity,-reduced them to order,-established their truth, or refuted their sophistry,-inferred from them practical results; and, to use the language of Cicero, was the first who led the studies of mankind to the important inquiries after virtue and vice, and to the establishment of the distinctions and the boundaries of good and evil. As this unrivalled philosopher wrote nothing, we must be satisfied to learn the outline of his thies from Plato, by whom they were adopted and recorded. Morals themselves are as old as man's exist. enon and have been objeets of inquiry and of speculation in all ages, but the reduction of them to form, (if we except the suered writings the oldest of all, and from which, there are strongessons te conelade, they were all borrowed,) must be Terred to Seerates among the Grecians.

He becomes, thereforea central point, equally removed from the scattenen elements to be found among his predecessors, who borrowed them to the eastern world, and the modern writer on this interesting subject, who seem substantially to have adopter Nis principles with the advantages furnished the merg experience or ages, and the more powerful

en mot always acknowledged, sometimes peremptorily denied but not the less real and influential, of the sublime code of Christianity I take my stand upon the simple and bue kuiem or Secretes, as apon an elevation from which Les and be able to point out to you, in every

Hi the moral landscape stretched all around it,

[graphic]

losing itself, on the one hand, among the shadows of the remotest antiquity, and extending, on the other, to the age in which we live, to the country in which it is our privilege to dwell, and to the very lecture-room in which we are now assembled.

Pythagoras stands nearest Socrates, as his precursor in this study; aụd claims the highest attention and respect, whether we consider the extent of his scientific researches, or the accuracy of his judgment, or the value of his precepts, or the zeal which prompted him to explore the most distant lands, and to bring home the wisdom collected with such toil, from the most celebrated and the most copious sources. He gave his testimony also to the superiority of this science over all other researches ; and deemed that philosophy which could not cure, at least some of the human passions, as worthless as that medicine which has no effect upon bodily disease.* He touched upon all the branches of morals virtually, although not methodically; and his mode of recommending moral duties, as well as of defining them, was by figures,by a symbolical and emblematical method of instruction. To the individual who refused his advice, and abandoned his school for sensual indulgences, he appealed by addressing the senses, and placing an empty coffin in the seat which he had been accustomed to occupy, as the emblem of that state of moral death to which he considered the mind of the unhappy profligate to be reduced.

He was accustomed to represent the friendship, and union, and harmony, which should prevail among his scholars, by setting salt before them. He expressed moral precepts in the same parabolic manner. Sloth, he reproved by the admonition, Receive not a swallow into your house." The swallow sports but for a season, soon disappears, and is supposed to be torpid during the greater part of the year. He guarded them against provoking the irritable and the powerful, by advising, “ Stir not the fire with a sword.” He cautioned against corroding and useless cares, by exhorting, “Eat not the heart." He recommended a strict regard to justice, by the command, “ Pass not over the balance.” The concord of sweet sounds," the harmonies of music, were with him favourite images of moral excellencies. These symbols might be multiplied, if it were necessary to our present purpose; but such as have been adduced are sufficient to establish and illustrate the emblematical and parabolic mode of instruction relative to morals employed by Pythagoras.

Nor did Pythagoras stand alone in this appeal to the understanding through the medium of the senses. Plato calls * Stobæus Serın. 80.

† Gale, b. ii. c.7. vol. ii. p. 167.

principally directed his attention, although he wrote upon the whole. These distinctions have been less respected in modern disquisitions ; and Ethics have been properly understood to comprehend morals in all their branches, emanating from the individual, diffusing themselves through his immediate connexions, and spreading over all the face of society. Nor does it appear possible to separate morals in their principle, from an operation as extensive as the relations of life, and the influence of the individual,-his duties being commensurate with his capacities.

In tracing the History of Morals, which is the subject of the present lecture, the mind naturally reposes upon Socrates as the first philosopher who reduced morals to system, uncovered their source, and applied them practically to the duties of the individual, and his relations to others. The philosophy which preceded this illustrious man related to nature, and might be called speculative; but he directed knowledge to purposes of moral utility,-renounced such sciences as appeared to him to conduce little or nothing to this great design,-gathered the scattered precepts of a remote antiquity-reduced them to order,-established their truth, or refuted their sophistry,-inferred from them practical results; and, to use the language of Cicero, was the first who led the studies of mankind to the important inquiries after virtue and vice, and to the establishment of the distinctions and the boundaries of good and evil.* As this unrivalled philosopher wrote nothing, we must be satisfied to learn the outline of his Ethics from Plato, by whom they were adopted and recorded. Morals themselves are as old as man's existence, and have been objects of inquiry and of speculation in all ages ; but the reduction of them to form, (if we except the sacred writings, the oldest of all, and from which, there are strong reasons to conclude, they were all borrowed,) must be referred to Socrates among the Grecians. He becomes, therefore, a central point,-equally removed from the scattered elements to be found among his predecessors, who borrowed them from the eastern world, and the modern writers on this interesting subject, who seem substantially to have adopted his principles, with the advantages furnished by the increasing experience of ages, and the more powerful assistance, not always acknowledged, sometimes peremptorily denied, but not the less real and influential, of the sublime code of Christianity. I take my stand upon the simple and beautiful system of Socrates, as upon an elevation from which I may myself see, and be able to point out to you, in every direction, the moral landscape stretched all around it,

* Cic. Acad. Quest. i.

.

losing itself, on the one hand, among the shadows of the remotest antiquity, and extending, on the other, to the age in which we live, to the country in which it is our privilege to dwell

, and to the very lecture-room in which we are now assembled. Pythagoras stands nearest Socrates, as his precursor in this study; and claims the highest attention and respect, whether we consider the extent of his scientific researches, or the accuracy of his judgment, or the value of his precepts, or the zeal which prompted him to explore the most distant lands, and to bring home the wisdom collected with such toil, from the most celebrated and the most copious sources. He

e gave his testimony also to the superiority of this science over all other researches ; and deemed that philosophy which could not cure, at least some of the human passions, as worthless as that medicine which has no effect upon bodily disease.* He touched upon all the branches of morals virtually, although not methodically; and his mode of recommending moral duties, as well as of defining them, was by figures, by a symbolical and emblematical method of instruction. To the individual who refused his advice, and abandoned his school for sensual indulgences, he appealed by addressing the senses, and placing an empty coffin in the seat which he had been accustomed to occupy, as the emblem of that state of moral death to which he considered the mind of the unhappy profligate to be reduced.

He was accustomed to represent the friendship, and union, and harmony, which should prevail among his scholars, by setting salt before them. He expressed moral precepts in the same parabolic manner. Sloth, he reproved by the admonition, - Receive not a swallow into your house.” The swallow sports but for a season, soon disappears, and is supposed to be torpid during the greater part of the year. He guarded them against provoking the irritable and the powerful, by advising, “ Stir not the fire with a sword.” He cautioned against corroding and useless cares, by exhorting, “Eat not the heart.” He recommended a strict regard to justice, by the command, “ Pass not over the balance.” The “concord of sweet sounds," the harmonies of music, were with him favourite images of moral excellencies. These symbols might be multiplied, if it were necessary to our present purpose; but such as have been adduced are sufficient to establish and illustrate the emblematical and parabolic mode of instruction relative to morals employed by Pythagoras.

Nor did Pythagoras stand alone in this appeal to the understanding through the medium of the senses. Plato calls Stobæus Serm. 80.

+ Gale, b. ii. c.7. vol. ii. p. 167.

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