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Morals And Moral Sentiments
by [?]

[First published in The Fortnightly Review for April, 1871.]

If a writer who discusses unsettled questions takes up every gauntlet thrown down to him, polemical writing will absorb much of his energy. Having a power of work which unfortunately does not suffice for executing with anything like due rapidity the task I have undertaken, I have made it a policy to avoid controversy as much as possible, even at the cost of being seriously misunderstood. Hence it resulted that when in Macmillan’s Magazine, for July, 1869, Mr. Richard Hutton published, under the title “A Questionable Parentage for Morals,” a criticism on a doctrine of mine, I decided to let his misrepresentations pass unnoticed until, in the course of my work, I arrived at the stage where, by a full exposition of this doctrine, they would be set aside. It did not occur to me that, in the meantime, these erroneous statements, accepted as true statements, would be repeated by other writers, and my views commented upon as untenable. This, however, has happened. In more periodicals than one, I have seen it asserted that Mr. Hutton has effectually disposed of my hypothesis. Supposing that this hypothesis has been rightly expressed by Mr. Hutton, Sir John Lubbock, in his Origin of Civilisation, etc., has been led to express a partial dissent; which I think he would not have expressed had my own exposition been before him. Mr. Mivart, too, in his recent Genesis of Species, has been similarly betrayed into misapprehensions. And now Sir Alexander Grant, following the same lead, has conveyed to the readers of the Fortnightly Review another of these conceptions, which is but very partially true. Thus I find myself compelled to say as much as will serve to prevent further spread of the mischief.

* * * * *

If a general doctrine concerning a highly-involved class of phenomena could be adequately presented in a single paragraph of a letter, the writing of books would be superfluous. In the brief exposition of certain ethical doctrines held by me, which is given in Professor Bain’s Mental and Moral Science, it is stated that they are–

“as yet, nowhere fully expressed. They form part of the more general doctrine of Evolution which he is engaged in working out; and they are at present to be gathered only from scattered passages. It is true that, in his first work, Social Statics, he presented what he then regarded as a tolerably complete view of one division of Morals. But without abandoning this view, he now regards it as inadequate–more especially in respect of its basis.”

Mr. Hutton, however, taking the bare enunciation of one part of this basis, deals with it critically; and, in the absence of any exposition by me, sets forth what he supposes to be my grounds for it, and proceeds to show that they are unsatisfactory.

If, in his anxiety to suppress what he doubtless regards as a pernicious doctrine, Mr. Hutton could not wait until I had explained myself, it might have been expected that he would use whatever information was to be had concerning it. So far from seeking out such information, however, he has, in a way for which I cannot account, ignored the information immediately before him.

The title which Mr. Hutton has chosen for his criticism is, “A Questionable Parentage for Morals.” Now he has ample means of knowing that I allege a primary basis of Morals, quite independent of that which he describes and rejects. I do not refer merely to the fact that having, when he reviewed Social Statics,[33] expressed his very decided dissent from this primary basis, he must have been aware that I alleged it; for he may say that in the many years which have since elapsed he had forgotten all about it. But I refer to the distinct enunciation of this primary basis in that letter to Mr. Mill from which he quotes. In a preceding paragraph of the letter, I have explained that, while I accept utilitarianism in the abstract, I do not accept that current utilitarianism which recognizes for the guidance of conduct nothing beyond empirical generalizations; and I have contended that–