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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
Art. I. - The Elements of Morality, including Polity.
By William WheweLL, D. D., Master of Trinity
DR. WHEWELL has been for some years well known as a scientific writer of great learning, candor, and soundness. His Bridgewater Treatise was second to none in the series, and may be studied as a model by any one whose office it is to embody for the use of general readers the results of profound research and scholarship. But his reputation rests, and probably will rest, chiefly on his History and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, — works which cover with singular fidelity the entire ground which they profess to occupy, - the former with a perfectness of method and an accuracy of detail which leave little to be desired, — the latter with a patience, caution, precision, and blended clearness and depth of thought, which must command the respect and admiration of those who dissent from its doctrines. The work now before us fills the same place for the department of Ethics, which the first of the above-named works does for the Inductive Sciences. It is not a treatise on Moral Philosophy, but an appropriate basis for such a treatise, which we cannot but anticipate as forthcoming (though not explicitly announced) from the same hand. The object of this work is to present what we may term the physiology of morality,
VOL. LXIII. — NO. 132.
that is, an outline of the undoubted facts and phenomena connected with man's moral being, self-consciousness, and agency, and of the leading eras and aspects of the ethical history of the race. Or, as the author takes England for his station, constantly applies his principles to the public law and sentiment of England, and seems on many subjects to have stopped short himself at the point which they have reached, we might define this work to be an answer to the question, “ Through what elements of human nature, through what processes of development and culture, are the conscience and the moral standard of an enlightened and virtuous English Churchman what they are”? This route of inquiry excludes, of course, the many metaphysical questions which properly belong to the department of ethics, such as the ultimate basis of moral obligation, the power of motives, the nature of the will, and the seat, laws, and limits of free agency ; but it presents a clear and philosophical statement of the facts from which alone these questions can be answered. We propose to give an outline view of the ground thus covered by Dr. Whewell, with such remarks of our own as the work and the subject may suggest and our limits permit.
Man is made a moral being by his powers of observation, reflection, and reasoning, combined with his conscious free agency. He understands what he does, and he does what he prefers to do. Moreover, as actions lead to events by invariable laws, they are the legitimate subjects of rules. But moral rules, as they are designed to act upon the will, must, in order to be of any avail, be adjusted with reference to those motives or springs of action which immediately influence the will. The springs of action our author enumerates as follows : “ The Appetites or Bodily Desires ; the Affections ; the Mental Desires ; the Moral Sentiments; and the Reflex Sentiments,” under which head he classes the desire of love or esteem from others, and the desire of our own approval, together with “ all those Springs of Action which are designated by some compound of the world Self; as Self-Admiration, Self-Love." This last class seems to us redundant. We can trace no difference in kind between “ the desire of superiority,” enumerated among the mental desires, and that of popularity or fame, which is put among the reflex sentiments. We do not deny, indeed, that the love of fame is a reflex sentiment; but so is hunger, thirst,