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‘Our Natural Guide…’: Conscience, ‘Nature’, and Moral Experience

Chapter

Abstract

The term ‘natural’, together with its cognates, is among the most problematic in the philosophical vocabulary, and in any discussion involving the term it is very important to be aware of the way in which its traditional meaning has been all but erased in current philosophical usage. In contemporary philosophical debate, the word ‘natural’ is most frequently associated with the programme known as ‘naturalism’, which has become something of a default agenda in modern analytic philosophy. Though it is often not precisely defined, it signals, very roughly, a determination to account for everything there is without any appeal to supernatural (often pejoratively called ‘spooky’) or other metaphysically charged explanations. In the sphere of moral philosophy, the programme aims to explain the realm of the normative (including the domain of moral obligation) in broadly empirical terms — as somehow part of, continuous with, or in some sense derivable from, the ordinary natural phenomenal world around us.

Keywords

Moral Judgement Natural World Moral Philosophy Moral Experience Metaphysical Picture 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Stephen Darwall, The British Moralists and the InternalOught’1640–1740 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995): 14.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    There is, however, a very plausible alternative view of Hume as not denying the existence of causal necessity but merely being sceptical about the possibility of our ever having knowledge of it. Cf. John Wright, The Sceptical Realism of David Hume (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); followed by Galen Strawson in The Secret Connexion (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40): Book III, Part 1, Section i, penultimate paragraph.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Richard Cumberland, A Treatise of the Laws of Nature (De Legibus Naturae Disquisitio Philosophica, 1672), trans. J. Maxwell (1727) (repr. New York: Garland, 1978): 41. Cited in Darwall, British Moralists: 15.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    This slogan (homologoumenos te physei zen), advanced by the followers of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, is preserved in the compilations of the anthologist Stobaeus (early 5th century AD); see A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley (eds), The Hellenistic Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). no. 63A and B.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Joseph Butler, Fifteen Sermons (1726): Sermon II, §5, in J.B. Schneewind (ed.), Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), Vol. II: 531. Also in D.D. Raphael (ed.), British Moralists 1650–1800 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969): §398.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    For example in de Caelo: I, 4; de Partibus Animalium: II, 13. For more on this theme in Aristotle, see R.J. Hankinson, ‘Philosophy of Science’, in J. Barnes (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995): ch. 4.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    G.W. Leibniz, Monadology (1714): §§65, 69; trans. in G.H.R. Parkinson (ed.), Leibniz: Philosophical Writings (London: Dent, 1973): 190.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    For more on this, see J. Cottingham, ‘Descartes’ Sixth Meditation: The External World, “Nature” and Human Experience’, Philosophy, Supp. Vol. 20 (1986): 73–89; repr. in V. Chappell (ed.), Descartes’s Meditations: Critical Essays (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997): ch. 10.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    Meditationes (1641), Sixth Meditation, AT VII, 80; CSM II, 56. ‘AT’ refers to the standard Franco-Latin edition of Descartes by C. Adam and P. Tannery, (Euvres de Descartes (12 vols, revised edn, Paris: Vrin/CNRS, 1964–76); ‘CSM’ refers to the English translation by J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and D. Murdoch, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Vols I and II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), and ‘CSMK’ to Vol. III, The Correspondence, by the same translators plus A. Kenny (Cambridge University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  11. 20.
    See Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002): 20.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    Compare the following: ‘By saying that conscience has supreme authority, Butler means that we regard the pronouncements of conscience, not simply as interesting or uninteresting statements of fact, and not simply as reasons to be balanced against others but as conclusive reasons for or against doing the actions about which it pronounces’ (C.D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory [1930], cited in Darwall: 247).Google Scholar
  13. 26.
    Rectum ingenium a Deo accepi’: Descartes, Conversation with Bunnan (1648), AT V, 148; CSMK: 334.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    This puts Butler close to an intuitionist position similar to that of Samuel Clarke, who argued that the realm of ‘eternal and necessary relations’ included a ‘natural and unalterable difference between good and evil’ which our human reason unmistakably perceives. (Samuel Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion [1706], in Raphael (ed.): §§225, 227.) Stephen Darwall insists on seeing Butler’s view as radically different from Clarke’s — though admitting the ‘puzzling’ fact that he did express approval of Clarke’s view (Darwall: 283n). Darwall lays great weight on Butler’s announcement in the Preface to his Fifteen Sermons that he does not propose to follow Clarke’s method, because rather than inquiring, a priori, into the ‘abstract relations of things’, he prefers to start from ‘matters of fact’, namely from ‘the particular nature of man, its several parts, their economy or constitution’ (Preface to Sermons: §7, in Raphael (ed.): §374). However, this appears to be a point about heuristic methodology, not metaphysics, and seems entirely compatible with the interpretation that the Sermons will eventually endorse the idea of a objective normative realm revealed by conscience. Butler himself makes it clear that the Clarkean a priori method and his own methodology in the Sermons ‘strengthen and support each other’ (Preface to Sermons: §7). Google Scholar
  15. 32.
    Compare J. Cottingham, ‘Descartes and the Voluntariness of Belief’, The Monist, 85 (2002): 343–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 33.
    Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey (1798), in S. Gill (ed.), William Wordsworth: A Critical Edition of the Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984): lines 103–5.Google Scholar
  17. 36.
    It is interesting (though I would not venture to claim a Wordsworthian influence) to note that the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins on several occasions compares the Virgin Mary (the archetypal ‘Handmaid of the Lord’) to the natural world; see ‘The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe’, from Poems (1876–1889), no. 37, repr. in W.H. Gardner (ed.), Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1953): 54; and cf. also ‘The May Magnificat’, no. 19 (p. 37).Google Scholar
  18. 41.
    ‘Synderesis’ (also ‘synteresis’) appears to have come into philosophical terminology via a corruption of syneidesis, St Paul’s word for conscience. Aquinas distinguishes, however, the general faculty of synderesis from conscientia, which latter involves applying principles to particular cases so as to evaluate what one should now do and what one has done in the past. See Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate (1256–9): 17; cf. Eleonore Stump, Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2003): 89.Google Scholar
  19. 42.
    Cf. Summa Theologiae (1266–73) Ia IIae, q. 94 aa. 3 and 6. See also Stump, Aquinas: 89.Google Scholar
  20. 44.
    Cf. G.W. Leibniz, Nouvaux essais sur l’entendement humain (1704), Preface, in P. Remnant and J. Bennett (eds), New Essays on Human Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981): 52. Contrast John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690): Book I, ch. 2, §5. Contrast also the more ‘static’ picture presented by Butler: see quotation flagged at note 30.Google Scholar
  21. 48.
    Summa Theologiae, Ia IIae, q. 91 a. 2. Cf. Stump, Aquinas: 88. Compare the following: ‘The natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding placed in us by God; through it we know what we must do and what we must avoid. God has given this light or law at the creation’ (Collationes in Decem Praecepta [1273], I).Google Scholar
  22. 50.
    See further Ralph McInerny, ‘Ethics’, in N. Kretzmann and E. Stump (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas (Cambridge: CUP, 1993): 206–7.Google Scholar
  23. 51.
    This fusion of intellect and emotions is clearly acknowledged in contemporary views of the doctrine of natural law that clearly follow the broad outlines of the Thomist tradition. Compare the following: ‘In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that’ (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes [1965]: 16; emphasis added).Google Scholar
  24. 53.
    ‘The real germ of religious consciousness, of out which sprang Israel’s name for God, to which the records of history adapted themselves, and which came to be clothed upon, in time, with a mighty growth of poetry and tradition, was a consciousness of the not ourselves which makes for righteousness.’ Matthew Arnold, Literature and Dogma (1873): ch. I, §5, repr. in Matthew Arnold, Dissent and Dogma (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968): 189.Google Scholar
  25. 54.
    Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, 1781, 1787), B xxx (trans. N. Kemp Smith [New York: St Martin’s Press, 1965]), p. 29: ‘I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith’. Kant’s term (prefiguring Hegel) is aufheben, implying not so much that one has to ‘deny’ knowledge in order to make room for faith (as Kemp Smith’s translation misleadingly has it) as that one has to transcend it. Cf. H. Kaygill, A Kant Dictionary (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), entry ‘faith’.Google Scholar
  26. 55.
    Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (325 BC), I: 1. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 59 a. 1; cf. Summa Contra Gentiles (1259–65): II, 47.Google Scholar

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© John Cottingham 2004

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