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5: Two Secular Critics of Humanist Ethics

The three forms of secular humanism that I have discussed so far turn out to be in various ways inadequate, and it is tempting to proceed at once to a consideration of the difference which religion might make, if brought into the discussion. But such a move would be premature. For, although the varieties of humanism I have been considering are extremely influential, it would be arbitrary and unfair to suppose that their weaknesses are apparent only to the religious mind and that they represent the only options open to the secular moralist. And it happens that quite recently these prevailing trends have been subjected to searching criticism by two thinkers whose own position is explicitly non-theistic, Iris Murdoch and Stuart Hampshire.

Iris Murdoch in her book, The Sovereignty of Good, directs her attack for the most part upon what I have called ‘romantic humanism’; Stuart Hampshire's target in his Leslie Stephen Lecture, Morality and Pessimism, is, rather, rational humanism in its philosophical guise, utilitarianism; but they share a certain nostalgia for older, more traditional conceptions of morality.

Iris Murdoch finds in Kant the typical portrait of modern man or ‘man-god’: for Kant abolished God and made man God in his stead:

How recognizable, how familiar to us, is the man so beautifully portrayed in the Grundlegung, who confronted even with Christ turns away to consider the judgement of his own conscience and to hear the voice of his own reason. Stripped of the exiguous metaphysical background which Kant was prepared to allow him, this man is with us still, free, independent, lonely, powerful, rational, responsible, brave, the hero of so many novels and books of moral philosophy… It is not such a very long step from Kant to Nietzsche, and from Nietzsche to existentialism and the Anglo-Saxon ethical doctrines which in some ways closely resemble it. In fact Kant's man had already received a glorious incarnation nearly a century earlier in the work of Milton: his proper name is Lucifer.1

The characteristic doctrine of morality associated with this man is that of will as the creator of value. ‘The agent, thin as a needle, appears in the quick flash of the choosing will.’2 The idea of good remains indefinable and empty so that human choice may fill it. The world is value-neutral. There is no mystery in it, and agreement about it can be reached in principle by any who are willing to attend to the facts. One is reminded of an operations room with an enormous map covering the whole of one wall and senior officers sticking flags on it, to all appearance arbitrarily. A man's flag-sticking policy is his way of life and, so long as he achieves consistency, it cannot be faulted.

The assumption seems to be, so Iris Murdoch complains, that it is an easy matter to come to see the world as it is; the only difficulty is to decide how to act in it. But this is not so:

It is a task to come to see the world as it is. A philosophy which leaves duty without a context and exalts the idea of freedom and power as a separate top level value ignores this task and obscures the relation between virtue and reality. We act rightly ‘when the time comes’ not out of strength of will but out of the quality of our usual attachments and with the kind of energy and discernment which we have available. And to this the whole activity of our consciousness is relevant.3

What chiefly hinders us in this task of seeing the world as it is, she believes, is our concern with ‘the fat relentless ego’, which involves us in consolatory fantasies. So there is need of a technique which will purify our selfish wills and enable us to act well.

For the religious prayer is such a technique and what is needed is, in effect, a secular analogue of prayer. Like prayer it must be directed towards something transcendent. If this is not God, it must be the idea of goodness itself which, like God, may be thought of as ‘a single perfect transcendent non-representable and necessarily real object of attention’.4 The idea of goodness involves the idea of a standard of perfection, hard to attain, all but impossible to represent, which nevertheless unifies the moral world:

The idea of perfection moves, and possibly changes, us… because it inspires love in the part of us that is most worthy… It lies always beyond, and it is from this beyond that it exercizes its authority Beyond the details of craft and criticism there is only the magnetic non-representable idea of the good which remains not ‘empty’ so much as mysterious.5

Miss Murdoch is fully aware that in this account of goodness she is drawing upon both Christian and Platonic sources. She wants above all to retain what these have in common, the sense of goodness as a transcendent demand which has authority over the individual will and is in no sense its creation. But she is equally decisive in her rejection of Christian and Platonic metaphysics, although in neither case does she make the grounds of her rejection at all explicit. She is content to assert, as against Plato, that:

Good has nothing to do with purpose, indeed it excludes the idea of purpose. ‘All is vanity’ is the beginning and end of ethics. The only genuine way to be good is to be good ‘for nothing’ in the midst of a scene where every ‘natural’ thing, including one's own mind, is subject to chance, that is, to necessity.6

as against theism, that ‘almost everything that consoles us is a fake… In the case of the idea of a transcendent personal God the degeneration of the idea seems scarcely avoidable.’7 Hence it is appropriate to reflect upon Miss Murdoch's essay as a critique of romantic humanism from within an entirely secular standpoint and as an attempt to provide a more adequate basis for a secular ethic.

The two features of the modern outlook to which she takes exception are the fragmentation of the self, which brings about the decay of the ideas of virtue and vice as permanent dispositions of the soul; and the vision of the world as metaphysically neutral and readily open to casual inspection and consequent agreement.

How might ‘modern man’ be expected to reply? He would, in the first instance, I think, point out that her vision of the world is the same as his in all respects save one, and that one highly problematic. For she believes, as he does, that:

Human life has no external point or telos… There are properly many patterns or purposes within life, but there is no general and as it were generally guaranteed pattern or purpose of the kind for which philosophers and theologians used to search. We are what we seem to be, transient, mortal creatures, subject to necessity and chance.8 It seems to follow that she has no quarrel with ‘the scientific world-view’ in its less grandiose forms, for all it does is to document the doctrine that the world is ruled by chance and necessity. How then, modern man could ask, is morality to be conceived in such a world? Either it must be based on science; or it must be a construction of the human mind exercising its own creative autonomy; or it must be some compromise between these two. Yet Miss Murdoch is critical of all three options. Although the main thrust of her attack is against the romantic pretensions of post-Kantian man, she is equally opposed to any form of utilitarianism, for this is involved in her insistence on ‘the pointlessness of virtue and its unique value and the endless extent of its demand’.9 A fortiori she could not be content with any accommodation between the two.

Iris Murdoch would protest against the implication that there are no other possibilities. It is the whole burden of her essay that there is a transcendent good in the light of which we can see things as they really are when the preoccupations of the self are laid aside as they are characteristically in the creation and contemplation of great works of art. To look properly at evil and human suffering is almost insuperably difficult, but:

There is, however, something in the serious attempt to look compassionately at human things which automatically suggests that ‘there is more than this’. The ‘there is more than this’, if it is not to be corrupted by some sort of quasi-theological finality, must remain a very tiny spark of insight, something with, as it were, a metaphysical position, but no metaphysical form. But it seems to me that the spark is real, and that great art is evidence of its reality.10

What can scarcely fail to strike the reader about Miss Murdoch's treatment of her theme is the absence, surprising in a novelist, of all discussion of the particular case, all attempt at illustration. We are not even given examples of the sort of great art to which she attributes such crucial moral significance nor of how it achieves its effects. Nor even, at a theoretical level, are we provided with an account of what is involved in seeing the world as it is or why it should be so difficult. However, what is here missing is to be found in two of her earlier works, ‘Vision and Choice in Morality’11 and her monograph on Sartre.12 In the former she argues, as it seems to me with great persuasiveness, that the separation of fact and value upon which philosophers have so strongly insisted is not a logical requirement of any meta-ethics, but a contingent feature of a particular, liberal, moral outlook. Every morality reflects a characteristic ‘vision of the world’, and the account of morality offered by the prescriptivist represents one such vision. The philosopher who claims that a man's morality is constituted by the attitudes he chooses to adopt to ‘the facts’—these facts themselves not being in dispute—is simply not sharing the same conception of morality with the man who believes that ‘the facts’ cannot always be specified in this morally and metaphysically neutral fashion. I have already suggested that Strawson's conception of morality similarly reflects a particular ‘vision of the world.’ Thus:

In short, if moral concepts are regarded as deep moral configurations of the world, rather than as lines drawn round separate factual areas, then there will be no facts ‘behind them’ for them to be erroneously defined in terms of. There is nothing sinister about this view; freedom here will consist, not in being able to lift the concept off the otherwise unaltered facts and lay it down elsewhere, but in being able to ‘deepen’ or ‘reorganize’ the concept or change it for another one. On such a view, it may be noted, moral freedom looks more like a mode of reflection which we may have to achieve, and less like a capacity to vary our choices which we have by definition. I hardly think this a disadvantage.13

This notion of a ‘vision of life’ provides the needed clue to the difficulty of the ‘task’ of seeing the world as it is. Miss Murdoch in her later work emphasizes the distorting effect upon our vision of the ‘fat, relentless ego’ and its incessant demand for easy consolation, but she seems to have lost her earlier awareness that there is here an intellectual task to be performed, one which demands spiritual discipline and moral uprightness, but which does not consist in these alone.

Consider, for example, Plato, to whom she constantly refers. Plato too believed that there were elements in the psyche that tended to deter us from contemplation of the good and distort it, the elements of appetite and uncontrolled self-assertion. But he also believed that there was an exacting intellectual task to be performed by the well ordered soul once it had freed itself from these distorting influences, that of discerning man's nature and man's duty in relation to the entire pattern of the cosmos as ordered by the Good. Hence Plato claimed to be able to show, in principle at least, what the human virtues were, and why they were virtues, and how human society should be organized so as to exemplify them and sustain them. The Christian scheme is, in certain important respects, different from Plato's, but it too represents a more or less articulate ‘vision of life’, sharing with Platonism the conviction that the ultimate standard is a transcendent one that, here and now at least, we can only dimly apprehend. Miss Murdoch retains the appeal to a transcendent good, but how it illumines and what it illumines she now leaves unsaid. Confronted by the enormous variety of ‘pictures of life’ which Strawson so vividly evokes, we are given no guidance as to which we should choose or why—only the passionate and somewhat wistful insistence that we may not simply choose as we wish. In consequence Miss Murdoch leaves herself open to the criticism that she once directed upon Sartre. ‘It is as if only one certainty remained; that human beings are irreducibly valuable, without any notion why or how they are valuable or how the value can be defended.’14

But is this judgement, perhaps, too hasty? For Miss Murdoch gives us a model of the good man's vision—‘the unsentimental, detached, unselfish, objective attention’ which characterizes the great artist ‘a kind of intellectual ability to perceive what is true, which is automatically at the same time a suppression of self.’15 Indeed she regards it as more than a model; it is itself an instance of moral vision: ‘appreciation of beauty… is a completely adequate entry into (and not just analogy of) the good life, since it is the checking of selfishness in the interest of seeing the real.’16 What can we learn from this comparison?

It is worth reminding ourselves, to begin with, that Walter Lippman, as we noticed earlier, makes precisely the same claim for science:

… inside the Laboratory, at the heart of this whole business, the habit of disinterested realism in dealing with the data is the indispensable habit of mind… This is an original and tremendous fact in human experience that a whole civilization should be dependent upon pure science, and that this pure science should be dependent upon a race of men who consciously refuse, as Mr Bertrand Russell has said, to regard their ‘own desires, tasks and interests as affording a key to the understanding of the world’.17

Inspired by this theme Lippman does not hesitate to claim: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that pure science is high religion incarnate.’18 Nor is this claim totally absurd. It is true that the scientist in his professional activity must ignore his personal wishes and submit himself to the arbitrament of the facts, and no amount of rhetoric about ‘the myth of the objective consciousness’ can controvert this truth.19 But in this instance it is immediately apparent that scientific disinterestedness is no guarantee of moral rectitude. It is too specialized; it involves too little of the scientist's personality, for the scientist's world is not the only world there is. And should the scientist in fact extend his professional objectivity to his personal and social life it would become inhuman. No one wants to be a perpetual subject for disinterested scientific scrutiny, as Eliza Doolittle discovered.

But would it be any better to be the perpetual object of an equally disinterested aesthetic contemplation? Can such contemplation, any more than that of the scientist, be identified with the love which seeks the good of another and is able to discern it? To be loved is not to be viewed with any sort of detachment, whether scientific or aesthetic.

Iris Murdoch would have been wiser to content herself with drawing an analogy between the artist and the good man. It is true that both art and moral virtue require disinterestedness, but beyond that the analogy has serious limitations. Not all great artists display the ‘just and compassionate vision’ of which she speaks; or, if she wishes to claim that they do, the words have to be used in a special sense. Shakespeare and Homer are both indisputably great, so are Rembrandt and the sculptor of the pediment at Olympia; but there is present in Shakespeare and Rembrandt a quality of pity and forgiveness which is missing in the other two. So Helen Gardner can write: ‘I find in the ethical temper of Shakespearean tragedy, with its emphasis on pity as the great human virtue, and in the images he so constantly presents of love as a giving not an asking, a distinctively Christian conception of human goodness’.20 And Kenneth Clark, after noting the unsparing realism of Rembrandt's nude, ‘Bathsheba’, adds: ‘Moreover this Christian acceptance of the unfortunate body has permitted the Christian privilege of a soul.’21 Both Shakespeare and Homer see without fantasy or self-concern, but what they see is not the same. Compare, for example, the scene in which Lear is reconciled with Cordelia with that in which Achilles receives the suppliant Priam. There are no greater moments in literature, but they belong in different moral worlds.

Moreover, the detachment and the compassion which the great artist manifests as artist is not related in any straight forward way to his moral character as a man and, indeed, to his selfishness or unselfishness as a man. We should like to believe that Tolstoi, in whose novels a ‘just and compassionate vision’ is more continuously apparent than in any other novelist, displayed in his life the selflessness and detachment of which Iris Murdoch speaks, but it was not so. His ego was too solid and muscular to be described as ‘fat’, but it was certainly relentless. In her estimate of the artist as man Miss Murdoch is in some danger of being beguiled by the ‘consolatory fantasies’ she so austerely condemns in the religious. Plato was more realistic in his fears of an irresoluble conflict between morality and art. It is all too apparent that a man may give imaginative expression in his art to a vision of life which is not embodied in his life.

But, in any case, disinterestedness or selflessness is not enough. It does not automatically guarantee an active sympathetic concern with the needs of others. It may be the product of a stoic apatheia or a Buddhist annihilation of desire. Consider, for example, Sir Arthur Keith's account of the Buddhist attitude to giving:

The giver must not give for any personal advantage; he must practice what he is to realize in theory, the absence of difference between himself and others… But… it must be accommodated to the system, and, if this forbids egoism, it equally forbids altruism, and sees no merit in the simply pity of the human heart for distress. Altruism implies existence and is therefore fatal; there is no perfection, compassion, morality, patience, energy, concentration, unless it be permeated by the essential intuition of nothingness; otherwise these virtues are blind and unavailing. The gift, therefore,… must be born of compassion, but also of vacuity.22

Lack of interest in self may spring from lack of interest in selves.

The conclusion must be that the artist provides a model for morality only if the vision of life to which he gives expression is both profound and true and he actually lives according to it; and this pushes the inquiry back to Iris Murdoch's earlier concern with the choice and validation of forms of life. Otherwise the transcendent good remains empty, notwithstanding her protestations to the contrary.

It is this lack which Stuart Hampshire promises to supply. Hampshire's target is utilitarianism and his chief complaint against it is that it ranges all moral considerations along a single scale of gains and losses and so encourages large scale political computations and a consequent ‘coarseness and grossness of moral feeling, a blunting of sensibility, and a suppression of individual discrimination and gentleness.’ In this he is in line with other critics of rational humanism in its scientific form. In particular he accuses it of neglecting, indeed, repudiating a certain feature of familiar moralities:

There are a number of different moral prohibitions… which a man acknowledges and which he thinks of as more or less insurmountable, except in abnormal, painful and improbable circumstances. One expects to meet [them] in certain quite distinct and clearly marked areas of action; these are the taking of human life, sexual relations, family duties and obligations and the administration of justice… When specific prohibitions in these areas are probed and challenged by reflection, and the rational grounds for them looked for, the questioner will think that he is questioning a particular morality specified by particular prohibitions. But if he were to question the validity of any prohibitions in these areas, he would think of himself as challenging the claims or morality itself.23

The utilitarian would accept this as a phenomenological description of popular morality but would insist that it be subjected to rational criticism. Some of these prohibitions could, no doubt, be justified on utilitarian grounds. What cannot be thus justified should be discarded, or relegated to a realm of purely personal morality.

Hampshire, it seems, is not content with this solution. While he concedes that proof is unattainable in such matters, he believes that there may nevertheless be ‘good reflective reasons’ for adopting a particular morality even when it lacks utilitarian support:

… in the sense that one is able to say why the conduct is impossible as destroying the ideal of a way of life that one aspires to and respects, as being, for example, utterly unjust or cruel or treacherous or dishonest. To show that these vices are vices, and unconditionally to be avoided, would take us back to the criteria for the assessment of persons as persons, and therefore to the whole way of life that one aspires to as the best way of life.24

Thus a moral system falls into two parts, ‘a picture of the activities necessary to an ideal way of life which is aspired to, and… the unavoidable duties and necessities without which even the elements of human worth, and of a respectworthy way of life are lacking.’25 In this way Hampshire arrives at a conception of morality closely resembling that to which we were led in the course of examining Strawson's version of liberal humanism. There are certain areas of human life which are universally, or almost universally, subject to moral constraint. The precise formulation of these constraints is determined by ideals which are not arbitrarily chosen but are shaped in accordance with our conception of what is properly human. It follows that Hampshire cannot countenance two of Strawson's central doctrines; the separation of the realms of the moral and the ethical, and the indefinite tolerance extended to incompatible ways of life so long as they do not encroach upon the basic social morality. It is true that ‘a reasonable man may envisage a way of life, which excludes various kinds of conduct as impossible, without excluding a great variety of morally tolerable ways of life within this minimum framework.’26 But the minimum framework in question is more extensive than Strawson's basic social morality, because it reflects, as Strawson's does not, ‘the ideal of a way of life’.

If the virtues typical of different ways of life cannot be fully combined, and if these ways of life have a social dimension, a very much higher degree of moral consensus is presupposed than the liberal humanist desires. And it seems that they must have a social dimension, since they bear upon such matters as respect for life, the administration of justice, sexual behaviour and the regulation of property. In respect of all such matters choices have to be made that are not simply individual choices.

On what basis, then, are such choices to be made? They cannot be, as the romantic humanist would claim, an expression merely of the individual's will; nor does there exist, as the scientific humanist maintains, a science of society which can make them for us. The liberal humanist has no viable alternative to offer. It is of crucial importance, therefore, for the humanist to consider this question and it is not the least of the virtues of Hampshire's essay that he makes at least a preliminary attempt to do this.

He takes as his example the most basic and universal moral prohibition, that on killing. He is not content with a utilitarian theory which reduces the horror of killing to the horror of causing other losses, principally of possible happiness (and this would include any theory which bases it merely upon the preservation of society). Life is not to be valued merely on account of the experiences and satisfactions it makes possible. It is, in a sense, sacred. The problem is, in what sense. The passage in which he deals with this question deserves to be quoted in full:

Respect for human life, independent of the use made of it, may seem to utilitarians a survival of a sacramental consciousness or at least a survival of a doctrine of the soul's destiny, or the unique relation between God and man. It had been natural to speak of the moral prohibitions against the taking of life as being respect for the sacredness of an individual life; and this phrase has no proper place, it is very reasonably assumed, in the thought of anyone who has rejected belief in supernatural sanctions.

But the situation may be more complicated. The sacredness of life, so called, and the absolute prohibitions against the taking of life, except under strictly defined conditions, may be admitted to be human inventions. Once the human origin of the prohibitions has been recognized, the prohibition against the taking of life, and respect for human life as such, may still be reaffirmed as absolute. They are reaffirmed as complementary to a set of customs, habits and observances, which are understood by reference to their function, and which are sustained, partly because of, partly in spite of, this understanding: I mean sexual customs, family observances, ceremonial treatment of the dead, gentle treatment of those who are diseased and useless, and of the old and senile, customs of war and treatment of prisoners, treatment of convicted criminals, political and legal safeguards for the rights of individuals, and the customary rituals of respect and gentleness in personal dealings. This complex of habits, and the rituals associated with them, are carried over into a secular morality which makes no existential claims that a naturalist would dispute, and which still rejects the utilitarian morality associated with naturalism.27

Hampshire here sets out, firmly and sensitively, the lineaments of the European moral tradition at its best, acknowledges its historical involvement with Christianity and vindicates the right of the humanist to reaffirm it without appeal to any supernatural warrant, for, even if its human origin is conceded, respect for human life ‘may still be reaffirmed as absolute.’

But what is the force of this ‘may’? It appears at first sight to give the prohibition against the taking of life an optional character which it did not have in the tradition to be reaffirmed. There it was a categorical demand; and reasons were given why this value was affirmed as absolute. Is Hampshire in the end reduced to reaffirming the tradition as a Strawsonian ‘individual ideal’ which others are at liberty to repudiate? It would seem not, for he goes on to insist: ‘The question cannot be evaded: what is the rational basis for acting as if human life has a peculiar value, quite beyond the value of any other natural things…’28 This rational basis is not exhausted by the social function which the prohibition performs. It does not, that is to say, belong entirely to Strawson's basic social morality:

The reasons that lead a reflective man to prefer one code of manners, and one legal system, to another must be moral reasons; that is, he must find his reasons in the kind of life that he praises and admires and he aspires to have, and in the kind of person that he wants to become. Reasons for the most general moral choices, which may sometimes be choices among competing moralities, must be found in philosophical reasoning, if they are found at all: that is, in considerations about the relation of men, to the natural, or to the supernatural, order.29

What would these reasons be like? Hampshire cannot in the span of a single lecture do more than indicate the considerations that weigh with him. Indeed he mentions only one consideration:

One may on reflection find a particular set of prohibitions and injunctions, and a particular way of life protected by them, acceptable and respectworthy, partly because this specifically conceived way of life, with its accompanying prohibitions, has in history appeared natural, and on the whole still feels natural, both to oneself and to others. If there are no overriding reasons for rejecting this way of life… its felt and proven naturalness is one reason among others for accepting it.30

We are, however, given little guidance as to what this appeal to ‘naturalness’ involves. It appears to have no affinities with an earlier form of rational humanism, of which we found vestiges in Kant, according to which moral values are derived from our understanding of what God or Nature intended man to be. Hampshire mentions with approval Spinoza, of whom (in his study of Spinoza) he writes: ‘To think of things or persons as fulfilling, or failing to fulfil, a purpose or design is, to imply the existence of a creator distinct from his creation: this is [for Spinoza] a demonstrably meaningless conception.’31 The appeal to naturalness can take another form, where what is ‘natural’ is what has come to seem so through the gradual development of a historical tradition. And this interpretation is suggested by Hampshire's reference to ‘what in history has appeared natural’. Would Hampshire feel sympathy with Burke's evocation of the English character as the norm of naturalness?

We have real hearts of flesh and blood beating in our bosoms. We fear God; we look up with awe to kings; with affection to Parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility. Why? Because, when such ideas are brought before our minds it is natural to be so affected.32

I scarcely think so. It is significant, however, that Hampshire feels the need to relate morality to nature, in some sense or other of that notoriously problematic word, and hopes that it may provide some kind of transcendent standard.33

It remains to apply what we have learned from these secular critics of prevailing types of humanism to our earlier discussion. We started with the confusion that is everywhere apparent in our moral thinking and reflected in our moral vocabulary, and have traced it to the coexistence of rival moral traditions, each in a kind of dialectical tension with the others and each depending, more or less explicitly, upon a conception of human nature and a corresponding doctrine about man's position in the universe; each morality presupposing an anthropology; each anthropology a metaphysic. The entire argument converges upon Hampshire's conclusion that ‘reasons for the most general moral choices, including choices among competing moralities, must be found in philosophical reasoning, if they are to be found at all; that is in considerations about the relation of men to the natural or to the supernatural order.’34 This general pattern is, as Hampshire recognizes, capable of being exemplified by a religious as well as by a secular ethic. Both Hampshire and Iris Murdoch show themselves aware of the existence of a religious alternative, and both take it for granted, without reason given, that such an alternative is to be rejected. Yet it can scarcely escape notice that their own criticisms of prevailing secular moralities are such as a specifically religious thinker might well advance. And I think it is not unfair to say that, in the case of both of them there is a certain awkwardness in their avoidance of religious themes. The Good, as Iris Murdoch conceives it, really does look like a severely attenuated God (a sort of Cheshire Cat's smile); and, Hampshire has palpable difficulty in divesting his language about the sanctity of human life of its Christian associations. Moreover it is apparent that the emptiness of Iris Murdoch's idea of the Good is attributable to the absence of the sort of metaphysical framework that might have given it substance and the need for which she argued so eloquently in her earlier work. And even if Hampshire's suggestions for supplying that need get little beyond tentative exploratory gestures, they reinforce our sense of that need.

The two thinkers I have been considering are representative of many other thoughtful people in their possession of what one may call a traditional conscience. It tells them that certain sorts of conduct are wrong in all, or almost all, circumstances; that it is of supreme importance that they as individuals should become and remain certain sorts of people and that the society to which they belong should exemplify certain standards; and that these moral demands upon them are not the expression simply of choices made by them or by their society, but are in some important sense objective and categorical. And they are faced with the question what view of man and what conception of man's place in the universe can make sense of such a conscience; and whether, if no acceptable rationale for it is on offer, they should regard it as obsolete and give it up.

  • 1.

    The Sovereignty of Good, Routledge & Kegan Paul (1970), p. 80.

  • 2.

    Op. cit., p. 53.

  • 3.

    Op. cit., pp. 91–2.

  • 4.

    Op. cit., p. 55.

  • 5.

    Op. cit., p. 62.

  • 6.

    Op. cit., p. 71.

  • 7.

    Op. cit., p. 59.

  • 8.

    Op. cit., p. 79.

  • 9.

    Op. cit., p. 104.

  • 10.

    Op. cit., p. 73.

  • 11.

    Proc. Ar. Soc. Supplementary volume, 1956–7, reprinted in Christian Ethics and Contemporary Philosophy, ed. I. T. Ramsey, S.C.M. (1966).

  • 12.

    Sartre, Romantic Rationalist, Cambridge University Press (1953).

  • 13.

    Christian Ethics and Contemporary Philosophy, pp. 214–15.

  • 14.

    Sartre, p. 81.

  • 15.

    Sovereignty of Good, p. 66.

  • 16.

    Op. cit., p. 65.

  • 17.

    Preface to Morals, p. 238, quoted on p. 26.

  • 18.

    Op. cit., p. 239.

  • 19.

    The reference is to Theodore Rosjak, The Making of a Counter Culture, chapter VII.

  • 20.

    Religion and Literature, Faber & Faber (1971), p. 79.

  • 21.

    The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form, Murray (1956), p. 328.

  • 22.

    Buddhist Philosophy in India and Ceylon, Clarendon Press (1923), p. 250. Keith's interpretation of Buddhism is, doubtless, controversial, but this does not affect the philosophical point.

  • 23.

    Morality and Pessimism, reprinted in Public and Private Morality, ed. Hampshire, Cambridge University Press (1978), p. 7.

  • 24.

    Op. cit., p. 10.

  • 25.

    Op. cit., p. 15.

  • 26.

    Op. cit., p. 12.

  • 27.

    Op. cit., p. 17–18.

  • 28.

    Op. cit., p. 20.

  • 29.

    Op. cit., p. 21.

  • 30.

    Op. cit., p. 21.

  • 31.

    Spinoza, Penguin (1951) p. 111.

  • 32.

    Reflections on the Revolution in France, University Tutorial Press, p. 89.

  • 33.

    Hampshire has since developed his suggestion about nature in an extended essay entitled Two Theories of Morality (Thank offering to Britain Fund Lectures, 1976).

    Nature is conceived on the lines of Spinoza as an intelligible order of causes and effects in terms of which the character and significance of human life is to be understood. The enlightened man delights in the discovery and contemplation of the natural order, and is freed from anxious self-concern and the sway of passion to the extent that he appreciates their causes. The way of life to be protected by morality is that of intellectual discovery and inquiry, and it is Hampshire's belief that the prohibitions needed to protect this way of life, and the virtues it sustains and is substained by, will generally coincide with the demands of Western liberal morality.

    It is far from obvious why this should be so. Consider Hampshire's earlier, and crucial question: ‘What is the rational basis for acting as if human life has a peculiar value quite beyond the value of any other natural things…?’ He now writes (expounding and endorsing Spinoza); ‘Clearing one's mind of confusions and superstitious fears will always involve getting rid of the idea of oneself as an original cause and as a sovereign will and as an island in nature.’ But this merging of man in nature with its explicit rejection of the Kantian emphasis on autonomy and its almost Buddhist denial of the self would seem to dispose, not only of specifically Christian, but also of broadly humanist reasons for regarding human life as of peculiar value. If I myself am not an original cause or an ‘island in nature’, no more is any other man. Where selves as such have so little significance, there is no more warrant for altruism than there is for egoism.

  • 34.

    My italics.