- Whewell’s philosophy of science and ethics
- Whewell’s philosophy of science and ethics Struan Jacobs ON SCIENCE Introduction Among the most prodigious of English minds of the nineteenth century, William Whewell (1794–1866) was at various times, and among other things, philosopher, intellectual historian, scientist, educationist, theologian, economist, student of Gothic architecture, classicist. ‘Science is his [Whewell’s] forte and omniscience his foible’, quipped Sidney Smith. Born at Lancaster, son of a master-carpenter, Whewell won in 1812 an exhibition to Cambridge University whose most famous College—Trinity—he went on to serve continuously from 1817, initially as a Fellow then from 1841 as Master, to his untimely death from a riding accident. Whewell was intellectually eminent in his lifetime, then his reputation went through a long eclipse. Interest in his work has, however, steadily increased over recent decades in an atmosphere more congenial to it, the intellectual shift—displacement of logical empiricism by historically informed philosophy of science—associated with Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) and others. Whewell believed, as now so many scholars believe, that the key to understanding the methods of science and the character of its knowledge lies in history, rather than in formal analysis of propositions and arguments. Whewellian scholarship has tended to concentrate on those texts that Whewell himself took to be his most important, The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840 [2.3]) and its more concretely detailed companion, History of the Inductive Sciences (1837 [2.31]).1 These were works for whose composition Whewell’s extensive interest in science— crystallography, mineralogy, geology, mathematics, astronomy, physics, biology, tidology, political economy—equipped him superbly. Historiography Whewell produced his History of the Inductive Sciences concurrently with the Philosophy. He envisaged a relation between the two works such that the History would, besides providing a chronicle of scientific discoveries, empirically inform the other inquiry. Philosophical study of the methods by which truth in science is discovered requires to be, which to date it has not been Whewell claims, ‘based upon a survey of the truths’ already known to scientists ([2.1], 1:viii). In this respect Whewell sees the History as a work without precedent, as he does also in its ‘point of view’ or ‘plan’. According to Whewell’s broad perspective, development of scientific disciplines typically involves ‘preludes’, ‘inductive epochs’, and ‘sequels’. Certain disciplinary histories may reveal no epoch at all (thermotics, science of heat, for example); some are exhausted by a single case of the threefold sequence (about Newton’s law of universal gravitation revolves the solitary epoch of physical or explanatory astronomy, and round the undulatory theory of Young and Fresnel turns that of physical optics); others show two or more of these cases (formal astronomy, covering astronomical relations as distinct from causes, with epochal figures in Hipparchus, Copernicus and Kepler). How are inductive epochs, the periods chiefly constitutive of the history of science, identified by Whewell? Their most prominent feature is major intellectual breakthrough, achieved by the inductive method. No epochal discovery is ever made ‘suddenly and without preparation’ ([2.1], 1:10). In the course of preludes, by invention of hypotheses and by analysis, ideas gain in clarity and facts in precision; materials needful for discovery are so prepared. Among ‘imperfect, undeveloped, [and] unconfirmed’ ([2.1], 2:370) preludial conjectures, some anticipate and ‘touch’ the great truths of epochs, as did Descartes’ vortex theory relative to Newton’s theory of gravity. In sequels to inductive epochs champions of new theories overcome by argument defenders of traditional beliefs, winning over ‘the wider throng of the secondary cultivators’ ([2.1], 1:10). Implications of epochal discoveries are traced out, increasing their evidential support. Emphasizing ‘great discoveries’ in the development of disciplines, their concepts and vocabularies undergoing significant change, Whewell may be said to work in the History with a concept of scientific revolutions. And the term itself is in evidence, Whewell noting the occurrence of ‘revolutions’ in ‘the intellectual world’ ([2.1] 1:9) and of ‘revolutions in science’ ([2.1], 3:114).2 But his use of ‘revolution’ is attenuated, its xconnotation including continuity between successive scientific theories, which, with the fact that ‘revolution’ commonly signifies sudden sweeping change, may explain why Whewell is not at all times comfortable with the word. Discomfort, indeed denial, manifests in his remark that ‘earlier truths are not expelled but absorbed, not contradicted but extended; and the history of each science, which may appear like a succession of revolutions, is, in reality, a series of developments’ ([2.1], 1:8). There coexist in the science of Whewell’s historiographic depiction an element each of evolution and revolution.3 From Whewell’s account of scientific development as variations on the theme of prelude, epoch, sequel, one is not to infer it is his view that science has undergone continuous development. He actually finds in the ‘history of human speculations’ ([2.1], 1:11) times of stasis when science has languished. Book IV of History of the Inductive Sciences presents as the major case the Middle Ages or, in Whewell’s phrase, the ‘Stationary Period’. From the epoch of Hipparchus virtually to the time of Copernicus, science stood still. Inquiring into why this was so, Whewell notes how often during these one-and-a-half millenniums ideas were left indistinct, and how rarely were theories hauled before the tribunal of facts. These failures were results of deeper tendencies: rigid obeisance to intellectual authority, intolerance of dissent and an ‘enthusiastic temper’ subjecting ‘the mind’s operations to ideas altogether distorted and delusive’ ([2.1], 1:81). Ideas and perception History of the Inductive Sciences covers one side of the development of science, the observational, Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences covering the other, the ‘history of the Sciences so far as it depends on Ideas’ ([2.1], 1:16). The Philosophy commences with a book on ‘Ideas in General’, books following on each of the better developed sciences: ‘Pure Sciences’ (mathematics), ‘Mechanical Sciences’, ‘Chemistry’, ‘Morphology, including Crystallography’, and the like. Such sciences impress Whewell as rich storehouses of ‘unquestioned truths’. The second—theoretically much the more interesting—part of Philosophy, ‘Of Knowledge’, chiefly consists of Books XI to XIII: ‘Of the Construction of Science’, ‘Review of Opinions on the Nature of Knowledge, and the Method of Seeking It’, and ‘Of Methods Employed in the Formation of Science’. It is contended by Whewell that sciences rest on ‘fundamental ideas’, each science having one idea or some combination of ideas uniquely its own. The ‘pure sciences’ (of mathematics) are based on ideas of space, time and number; the ‘mechanical sciences’ on that of cause; ‘palaetiological sciences’ (historical sciences, including geology and biology) on historical cause. (An implication of this doctrine is denial of disciplinary reductionism. It excludes the possibility of a fundamental bedrock science, of whose laws those of other sciences are functions and from which deducible. Each science is for Whewell sui generis.) To the development of each science ideas contribute ‘elements of truths’. Elements of another kind also play a part, which dualism is nowhere brought out more clearly by Whewell than in his account of perception. Analysing this will lead us into his philosophy of science. Perception requires sensory impressions of shape, surface, colour, and movement. But there must be in perception materials besides these, for sensations are formless, evanescent, disconnected and without assignable boundaries, whereas perception is of enduring objects with specific properties, involved in definite relations. It is inferred by Whewell that mind is greatly involved, informing and fashioning the sensory flux.4 Perception of objects with properties and in relations—discrete, spatially located, shaped, enduring, numbered, operated on by forces, resembling others—is the synthesis of sensory presentations and mental emanations. Impressions on senses by phenomena without are materials to which form is given by ideas within.5 Sensations and ideas are one expression of that which Whewell describes as the ‘fundamental antithesis’ of knowledge; elements which while mutually dependent are unlike in character and issue from opposite sources. Innate to the mind and developed over time through its intercourse with the world are powers of forming fundamental ideas (space, time, number, likeness, causality, matter, force, substance, medium, symmetry and design) and of cognate conceptions. To exercise these powers is to organize in definite ways the otherwise shapeless flux of sensations, impregnating it with assumptions. The product of the process is conceptually informed material, sensations and ideas fused in perception. Whewellian ideas are nothing like the mental images or objects of thought to be found in Descartes and Locke, but are close to Kant’s ‘forms of sensibility’ (space and time). Whewell’s account of mind and perception would appear to have been significantly affected by Kant. True, Whewell ([2.6], 334–5) describes his ‘main views’ as ‘very different from Kant’s’ (instancing Kant’s denial of knowledge of noumena or things in themselves), but he admits in the same breath to having ‘adopted some of Kant’s views, or at least some of his arguments. The chapters…on the Ideas of Space and Time in the Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, were almost literal translations of chapters in the Kritik der Reinen Vernunft’. ‘Kant considers that Space and Time are conditions of perception, and hence sources of necessary and uni-versal truth’ as indeed—except that he recognizes more of such ‘conditions’ and ‘sources’—does Whewell ([2.6], 336). Induction Whewell’s philosophy of science builds on the foregoing analysis of perception, elaborating the theme of the fundamental antithesis. The philosophy of science includes among its main components an account of induction as the process of scientific discovery, and standards for measuring which theories are true. The most accessible source of all this is Book XI, ‘Of the Construction of Science’, forming as Whewell ([2.3], 2:3–4) puts it the ‘main subject’ of Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, all earlier chapters being in relation to it ‘subordinate and preparatory’.6 The materials or ‘conditions’ of knowledge Whewell in opening his account of it explains are ideas and conceptions emanating from mind and—the other side of the antithesis—facts originating from observation and experiment. Scientific knowledge is expressed in ‘exact and universal’ propositions. It consists in the application of conceptions or ideas, distinct and ‘appropriate’ to some science (as is symmetry to morphology, force to mechanics, and vital power to physiology),7 to numerous facts possessed of clarity and certainty.8 A system of scientific knowledge is said by Whewell ([2.3], 2:3) to exist ‘when, facts being thus included in exact and general propositions, such propositions are, in the same manner, included with equal rigour in propositions of a higher degree of generality; and these again in others of a still wider nature, so as to form a large and systematic whole’. Necessary for achieving scientific knowledge are a twofold process of preparation— ‘explication of conceptions’ and ‘decomposition of facts’—and a method Whewell distinguishes as ‘colligation’. Explication is undertaken to clarify conceptions and to gauge their suitability to research projects. (In the terminology of History of the Inductive Sciences it is ‘preludial’ work.) Controversy is prominent in this process. Vague and unfamiliar, new conceptions are objected to, placing on protagonists the onus of elucidation and integration. It is Whewell’s judgement ([2.3], 2:8), a combination of ‘whiggishness’ and hindsight, that all controversies respecting scientific conceptions have ended in victory to ‘the side on which the truth was found’. Under the broad heading of ‘explication’ Whewell also includes disclosure of necessary truths as inhering in ideas and functioning as presuppositions of sciences. Ideas must be clear before necessity in axioms can be discerned and their implications be traced out: ‘the distinctness of the idea is necessary to a full apprehension of the truth of the axioms’ ([2.2], 170). As conceptions call for ‘explication’, in the other part of the process of preparing materials for discovery, facts have need of ‘decomposition’. Facts properly decomposed are ‘definite and certain…, free from obscurity and doubt’ ([2.3], 2:26). Reduced to simple elements and considered in regard to clear ideas and conceptions, experience may be rid of impurities—the likes of myth, prejudice and emotion. Among the original basis of decomposed facts for astronomy, for example, were the moon’s recurrent phases, rising and setting points of the sun, and those regular intervals between which the same stars become visible at the same time of the year. After explication and decomposition the way is clear for ‘colligation’ as the really creative work of science. By exercise of imagination, the scientist endeavours to hit upon a conception capable of expressing a ‘precise connexion among the phenomena which are presented to our senses’ ([2.3], 2:36). In the case of Kepler’s third law, ‘Squares of the periodic times of planets are proportional to the cubes of their mean distances from the sun’, Whewell finds elementary facts about the planets’ solar distances and durations of years colligated (literally, ‘bound together’) by such conceptions as squares of numbers and proportionality. Explication, decomposition and, above all, colligation are the constructive elements forming induction, from which process Whewell ([2.3], 2:47) derives all ‘real general knowledge’ of the world, by which he believes are discovered all laws of nature. Whewellian induction has little more than its name in common with the process traditionally so called. It is not generalization from facts but invention of an hypothesis using a new conception(s) or an old one(s) transposed from some other context; the hypothesis being superimposed on, so as to bring order to, facts hitherto not perceived as connected. Successful hypotheses depend on suitable conceptions, for invention of which there is no methodological rule, being fruit of sagacity and serendipity. Whewellian induction also takes in negative testing of hypotheses to strike those out that are false. In coupling colligation with critique, Whewell presages by one hundred years in a most remarkable manner Karl Popper’s image of science as ‘conjectures and refutations’. Writes Whewell: This constant comparison of his [the scientist’s] own conceptions and supposition with observed facts under all aspects, forms the leading employment of the discoverer: this candid and simple love of truth, which makes him willing to suppress the most favourite production of his own ingenuity as soon as it appears to be at variance with realities, constitutes the first characteristic of his temper. [2.3], 56–7).9 There is for scientists a temptation to cling on to hypotheses, setting their faces against empirical violations, and Whewell believes it helps explain the ‘obloquy’ into which hypotheses ‘have fallen’ ([2.3], 2:58). This detraction, and more so the misuse, Whewell regrets. When, however, science proceeds properly, an episode of invention and test continues for as long as it takes for an hypothesis to be framed to bind ‘scattered facts into a single rule’ ([2.3], 2:41). Whewell is able to find no clearer illustration of the process in the history of science than Kepler’s successive invention and disposal of nineteen hypotheses (oval, combinations of epicycles, etc.) as he struggled to describe the orbit of Mars, which he eventually succeeded in doing through his colligation with the conception of ellipse. John Stuart Mill, prominent among Whewell’s adversaries, critically considered in A System of Logic Whewell’s account of the case of Kepler. Mill did this under the heading ‘Inductions Improperly So Called’, indicating that to his mind what Whewell terms ‘colligations’ and identifies with inductions are strictly speaking not inductions at all. ‘Induction’ for Mill ([2.17], 288) ‘is the process by which we conclude that what is true of certain individuals of a class is true of the whole class’. It is generalization, the inferring of general propositions, whereas by colligation he ([2.17], 292) understands ‘mere description’, there occurring no inference from, no going beyond, the facts. That which Mill ([2.17], 297) identifies as the ‘fundamental difference’ between Whewell and himself over how Kepler should be interpreted centres on whether the ellipse colligation was logically equivalent to, only a description of, Kepler’s experience. Mill ([2.17], 295) demurs to Whewell’s suggestion that Kepler ‘put what he had conceived into the facts’. In Mill’s account, having the concept of ellipse, Kepler considered whether observed positions of Mars were consistent with an elliptical orbit, and realized they were. ‘But this fact, which Kepler did not add to, but found in, the motions of the planet…was the very fact, the separate parts of which had been separately observed; it was the sum of the different observations’ ([2.17], 297). So far as implications for his own philosophy of science are concerned, Mill, if I may digress to note a most interesting historical fact, devotes undue attention to the lesser of two associated problems. Let us put to one side whether Kepler’s third law is no more than a description, and focus on the fact that descriptions do not exhaust Whewell’s class of colligations. Universal propositions happen also, even more so, to be included and these, going beyond the facts, are by Mill’s standards generalizations not descriptions. Mill ([2.17], 297) unreservedly agrees with Whewell that the ‘tentative method’ of trying conceptions is ‘indispensable as a means to the colligation of facts for purposes of description’. To be true to his inductive philosophy Mill must now restrict Whewell’s hypothetical or conjectural method to colligation in the restrictive (Millian) sense, ascribing to induction (generalization) all universal propositions of science. But this he fails consistently to do. Ultimately he wishes also to admit hypothesizing as a further source of general propositions. So it is one finds in Mill’s System of Logic two philosophies of science: one in essence inductive, the other hypothetical. Of Mill’s recognition and comprehension of this second method Whewell, as I have elsewhere argued, was almost certainly an important source ([2.15]; [2.16], 128–32). Consilience Whewell considers that scientific hypotheses are susceptible of proof, which is a major difference from Popper in whose view they are falsifiable only. We may conveniently denominate Whewell’s conditions of proof as ‘static success’ and ‘progressive success’. Each condition is required, and the two together are sufficient, for proof. An hypothesis is advanced to explain some property or behaviour of the members of a class of phenomena. The ‘static’ condition of proof demands of a theory successful predictions of facts of the same nature within its subject class. The condition is minimal and non-definitive, being always satisfied by true, as well as sometimes by false, theories. While the theory of Ptolemy accurately predicted planetary positions along with solar and lunar eclipses, eventually it was judged an inaccurate representation of the structure of the heavens. Is the achievement of any so-far predictively successful theory ever sufficient to insure it against refutation later on? In Whewell’s other condition of success lies the answer, and it we see is affirmative. Whewell notices two forms of ‘progressive’ explanatory success (‘successive generalization’ being his term for it). One concerns theories to which hypotheses are added. It may be the case that the hypotheses successively ‘tend to simplicity and harmony;…the system…[becoming] more coherent as it is further extended’. Observes Whewell ([2.3], 2:68), ‘The elements…we require for explaining a new class of facts are already contained in our system’, and for him this amounts to an infallible sign of truth. His prize example is the addition to Newton’s theory of suppositions of: the sun’s attraction to satellites to account for the motions of the aphelia and nodes; mutual attraction of planets to account for perturbations; attraction between earth, sun, and moon to account for tides, for the earth’s spheroidal form, and for precession. The pattern is unmistakably that of progressive simplification, says Whewell ([2.3], 2:70), several hypotheses resolving ‘themselves into the single one, of…universal gravitation’. In cases of the opposite kind, being historically the more numerous, assumptions happen neither to be suggested by nor to be reconcilable with theories to which they are appended. To Descartes’ vortex theory were added hypotheses to explain elliptical planetary and lunar orbits, perturbations, and earth’s gravitation. But they were independent, arbitrary, and ad hoc, and brought the theory into disrepute. By scientists using it to account for weights of chemical compounds, phlogiston theory was supplemented with, to the detriment of its credibility, the barely coherent notion that phlogiston is an element at once heavy and light, which upon entering compounds serves to reduce their weight. Ad hoc assumptions are to Whewell a sure sign of false theories. The other form of ‘progressive’ success is ‘consilience of inductions’. This is achieved when a theory T (‘All Cs have property H’), advanced to causally explain a confirmed generalization L1 (‘All P1s have property A’), is later discovered also to give a successful explanation of a confirmed law about a class of phenomena, L2 (‘All P2s have property B’), different from that for which it was framed.10 T is advanced to explain L1 on the assumption that P1s are Cs. T’s explanation is confirmed if, in testing P1s in various circumstances, H is found to cause property A. This is the ‘static’ condition above. If— the salient characteristic of consilience of inductions—theory T is successfully applied beyond its intended domain to an (originally) unintended domain, such that H is shown to cause property B, it follows that P2s, like P1s, are members of the class of Cs. ‘Static’ and ‘progressive’ success together, Whewell says, ‘irresistibly’ establish a theory’s truth. As Whewell uses the same theories to illustrate both types of ‘progressive’ explanatory success, the thought occurs that perhaps his ‘consilience’ and ‘progressive simplification’ are different names for a single process. In the words of one commentator: Actually however, Whewell was not that sure that… simplification is all that different from a consilience. If we get a consilience, then one hypothesis is being used to explain facts from two different classes. And this, in a sense, is what simplicity is all about, for we are using a minimum to explain a maximum. ([2.19], 231) It is clear from what Whewell says that scientists can never hope to induce (generalize) theories and laws from others already established. Conception is unpredictable; imagination strikes out in different direc-tions. Progressive cognitive expansion is none the less suggested. While no one knows in advance how to explain established laws, a new theory is required deductively to so do as a condition of its acceptance. A successful Whewellian scientific discipline resembles in the manner of its growth the construction in layers (theories) of an inverted triangle from apex to base. Explanation is in the opposite direction, deductively descending. Suffice in closing this section to note that Whewell’s paradigm cases of progressive explanatory success—universal gravity and the undulatory theory of light—physicists came in the fullness of time to judge as false. There seems nothing for it but to say Whewell fails to establish a criterion of proof: predictive successes, no matter how outstanding, are no indicator of future performance of theories. Necessity Whewell’s writings on necessity as a property of (at least some) scientific theories would appear to have given rise to greater interpretative disagreement than has his treatment of any other topic. It will be shown that he theorizes the property in more than one way, which fact, not widely appreciated, may help explain the variety of interpretation. Whewell first addressed necessity in a paper ‘On the Nature of the Truth of Laws of Motion’ (1834), included later in Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. Focusing on mechanics, science of ‘motions as determined by their causes, namely, forces’ ([2.3], 2:574), Whewell identifies three necessary axioms: ‘Every change is produced by a cause’; ‘Causes are measured by their effects’; and ‘Action is always accompanied by an equal and opposite Reaction’ ([2.3], 2:574–6). Newton’s laws of motion are respectively related to the axioms, the first axiom applied to motion yielding the first law, ‘when no force acts, the properties of the motion [direction and velocity] will be constant’ ([2.3], 2:577), and so on. In the same essay Whewell distinguishes each law of motion into ‘necessary’ and ‘empirical’ parts. The first law, continuing here with the same example for ease of exposition, in its necessary part affirms that ‘Velocity [as a property of motion] does not change without a cause’, the empirical part affirming that ‘The time for which a body has already been in motion is not a cause of change of velocity’ ([2.3], 2:591). In what for Whewell consists the ‘necessity’ of the axioms and laws of motion? He describes the ‘necessary’ parts of the laws of motion, and, by implication, the axioms from which they derive, as ‘inapplicable’. But this adjective, suggesting analytic necessity, is not a happy choice, seeing that Whewell goes on to describe the axioms not only as ‘absolutely and universally true’ and expressive of ‘absolute convictions’ but as serving also to regulate our experience. When ‘looking at a series of occurrences…we inevitably and unconsciously assume’ the axioms’ truth, for experience we we are unable to ‘conceive otherwise’ ([2.3], 2:575).11 Axioms being necessarily true of, and indispensable to the reception of, experience, so must be the necessary element in each law of motion. Each such element makes a true, albeit highly general, assertion about the world. While the first law of motion truly asserts that change of velocity requires a cause, it is silent on what kind of causation is involved (inherent or extrinsic?) and is on this level, as Whewell would have it, ‘inapplicable’. It is a posteriori that we find out that the causation in question is external, not an inner power. The kind of necessity of which Whewell ([2.3], 2:593) here speaks is instructive and, at the same time, strictly universal (the ‘all possible worlds’ variety) for the necessary part of a law of motion cannot ‘be denied without a self-contradiction’. The axioms of mechanics and the non- ‘empirical’ (read non-‘contingent’) part of each law of motion appear in Whewell’s 1834 essay as synthetic-necessary truths. In Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences the analysis of necessity is along broadly similar lines except that the doctrine of ideas is now brought into play. Mechanical sciences in general rest on the idea of cause and its modes or conceptions of force (mechanical cause) and matter (resistance to force), with the special branch of ‘dynamics’ depending on the axioms of cause and the laws of motion. What the 1834 essay presents as axioms simpliciter in Philosophy appear as axioms grounded in and expressing the idea of cause. The axioms are described as ‘true independently of experience’, meaning a priori, and as true ‘beyond the limits of experience’, meaning necessary and synthetic. That the truth of axioms is ‘necessary’ in the robust sense of that word is evident from the imperative mood of the first axiom: ‘Every Event must have a Cause’ ([2.3], 2:452). To laws of motion also necessity is ascribed, yet they are said to have been ‘collected from experience’ ([2.3], 1:247; [2.3], 2:453). The air of contradiction that surrounds this combination of claims Whewell dispels by noting in each law the presence of a non-necessary element, the content being true but only contingently so. It is their universality and vocabulary (‘cause’, ‘effect’, ‘action’, ‘reaction’, etc.), in a word their ‘form’, in virtue of which the laws ‘exemplify’ the corresponding axioms, and in which their necessity consists. Laws so formed Whewell ([2.3], 1:249) regards as necessary in yet another way, drawing attention to an ‘indestructible conviction, belonging to man’s speculative nature’ that there are laws of motion, ‘universal formulae, connecting the causes and effects when motion takes place’. Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, in that part of the third edition titled Philosophy of Discovery, presents knowledge of necessary truth as ‘progressive’, Whewell largely devoting himself to making sense of this fact. Part of his explanation is that necessary truth proves accessible only to minds properly prepared. ‘To see the truth and necessity of geometrical axioms, we need geometrical culture’ ([2.6], 347), just as necessity in axioms of mechanics remains opaque until, their discipline developed, scientists acquire the right culture. While scientific disciplines (mechanics, chemistry, geometry, and the like) could never have been raised other than on the basis of axioms, ‘internal conditions’ of experience and knowledge as Whewell calls them, the knowledge that axioms are necessary truths is acquired later. Whewell goes on to claim that in (but not only in) mechanics, his exemplar of excellent physical science, axioms encapsulate ‘in a manner’ the science in its entirety. ‘The whole science of Mechanics is only the development of the Axioms concerning action and reaction, and concerning cause and its measures’ ([2.6], 357). For this bold claim Whewell offers no effective support;12 his present interests not including analysis and defence of his doctrine of necessity. It has been indicated above that ‘Laws of Motion’ and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences both treat the axioms of mechanics as wholly necessary and the laws of motion as necessary in form and contingent in content. In that account the laws are not deducible from axioms. By implication, there being in what Whewell says nothing to suggest otherwise, the distinction between necessary and non-necessary truth is an ontological and absolute one, based on objective properties.13 But Philosophy of Discovery presents a different doctrine altogether. As the entire science of mechanics is able to be exfoliated from axioms (once the laws are discovered), the distinction between truths necessary and truths non-necessary in mechanics must in this case be drawn only relative to the state of knowledge (level of cultivation), all truths of mechanics in reality being, and eventually recognized as being, necessary. As noted, Whewell on the subject of necessity in Philosophy of Discovery wants specifically to explain the progressiveness of knowledge of necessity: how propositions whose truth is in the first instance known a posteriori come to be known a priori (as necessarily true). His explanation in its first part revolves around development of disciplines and cultivation of minds. Its second part presents the proposition that structural identity must exist between mind and the world. Ideas exist in God’s mind, and these he has impregnated in the human mind as well as constituting the world according to them. Consequences of ideas in the world are laws of nature, which coincide with consquences of ideas in the mind (propositions), consequences of both descriptions being necessary. This same general view Whewell in Philosophy of Discovery extends to ethics, postulating the existence of ethical ideas that coincide with ideas in God’s mind. We now turn to Whewell’s ethical doctrines. ON ETHICS Introduction Whewell has been credited with having revived in the nineteenth century ‘the study of moral philosophy at Cambridge’, being at the head of an impressive ‘line of Cambridge moralists—John Grote, Henry Sidgwick, G.E.Moore, C.D.Broad—whose outlook, despite important differences, is strikingly similar on certain central issues’ ([2.21], 109). Their historical importance notwithstanding, Whewell’s ethical works have in the twentieth century been almost entirely neglected.14 Whewell began publishing on ethics in 1836 with a ‘Preface’ to James Mackintosh’s Dissertation on The Progress of Ethical Philosophy. On the Foundations of Morals, Four Sermons appeared in 1837. The following year, appointed Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy (his second chair, that of Mineralogy having been held by him from 1828 to 1832), Whewell delivered twelve lectures which later appeared as Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England (1852, [2.5]). Certain themes of these lectures form a backdrop to the opus magnum of Whewell the moralist, Elements of Morality, including Polity (1845, [2.4]). The leitmotif of Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England is the history of conflicting understandings of the foundations of morals, the basic principles of duty or right conduct. Theories of one class, distinguished by Whewell as ‘high’ or ‘independent’, explain conduct as moral or immoral per se, right and wrong being independent (inherent) qualities of actions. According on the other hand to the theories Whewell designates as ‘low’ (the adjective serving to make plain his antipathy), morality is reducible to facts more fundamental and real. The facts in question are consequences of actions, notably pleasure and pain. The debate between theorists of these two proclivities arose in ancient Greece, Stoics pitted against Epicureans. Woven through Christian moralizing, the independent perspective was long ascendant, up to the seventeenth century in fact. Then, at the same time as Hobbes and Locke were forcefully asserting the low view of morality, developments in science and metaphysics were straining and breaking the web of traditional belief. The high position began to look anachronistic, fewer people found it credible. For a new age, in a new climate of opinion, the independent doctrine had to be appropriately reformulated. And while attempts have been made to adapt it to the altered circumstances, they have only been partial and never really satisfactory. So far as Whewell is concerned, the real work of reconstruction remains to be done. From the early eighteenth century, in England generally and at Cambridge University in particular, dependent theorizing on morality formed ‘the general tendency’ ([2.5], 165). Since the middle of that century, the successive main sources of the ethical instruction given at Cambridge have been Gay, Rutherforth and William Paley. Gay’s Dissertation (1732) affirms God’s will as the determinant of virtue, and human happiness the measure. On any occasion the action productive of greatest happiness is that which God would have us perform. In Essay on the Nature and Obligations of Virtue (1744) Rutherforth attempts to show that happiness as the ultimate end of action is a teaching of reason, with revelation the source of our knowledge that God will reward with happiness in the next life right conduct towards others in this. The major production of Paley was Principles of Morals and Politics (1785). Such has been its intellectual impact, Whewell puts it in another league altogether from the last mentioned works. Radiating influence far beyond the walls of Cambridge colleges, Paley affected ‘the habits of thinking, reasoning and expression’ of English people ‘to at least as great an extent as any previous moral doctrine has ever done’ ([2.5], 176–7). The central teaching of Paley is that happiness for humanity is desired by God, by whom those of our actions that conduce to happiness are deemed right and to whom they prove agreeable. We may know God’s will so Paley reasons, and reasoning thus he is close to Gay, by determining which actions achieve most happiness for all concerned. There is for Whewell sad irony about Paley’s labours; of noble intentions and impeccable religiosity, his thought was a major antecedent of secularized utilitarianism. Little did he, and profoundly would it have aggrieved him to, know that his writings would in time ‘lead to dangerous and immoral tenets’ and ‘produce…evil’ ([2.5], 178). Whewell expresses in History of Moral Philosophy a resolve to deal with the problem as he recognizes it, seeking reform of the Cambridge curriculum. The ‘system of [Paleyian] morals which is now taught among us is unworthy of our descent and office; and it will be my endeavour in future years… further to point out, and, if possible, to remedy the defects which I lament’ ([2.5], 184). He was as good as his word. Whewell’s ethical ‘writings became text-books at Cambridge, and were naturally studied by young men reading for Trinity fellowships’ ([2.24], 1371). The reader of History of Moral Philosophy catches glimpses of some of the likely sources of influence on Whewell’s constructive ethical thought. Grotius, Pufendorf and Cumberland are approved of for having recognized in human nature principles besides self-interest. He accepts Butler’s proposition that ‘The proper office of each of the principles of our nature assists us…to determine their limits, and to lay down rules for their direction, control, or restraint’, rules that is for framing ‘special moral duties’, although he can nowhere find in Butler a satisfactory ‘classification of the faculties and operations of the human mind’ ([2.5], 112). And with Paley, Whewell ([2.5], 166) is able to agree on at least this: the task of the moralist must include deductive ordering of ‘the commonly-received rules of morality’. This leads on to Whewell’s constructive doctrine. Rational morality in context The diverse materials of Elements of Morality are sorted into six books: ‘Introduction. Elementary Notions and Definitions’, ‘Morality. Of Virtues and Duties’, ‘Religion. Of Divine Laws and their Sanction’, ‘Jus. Of Rights and Obligations’, ‘Polity. The Duties of the State’ (‘Jus’ treating law as it is, ‘Polity’ law as it ought to be), and ‘International Jus. Rights and Obligations Between States’. In its final (fourth) edition, the main body of the work runs to around 550 pages, with its longer books, ‘Morality’ and ‘Polity’, in the order of 200 and 130 pages respectively. There are two senses of ‘morality’ to be noticed in the titles. In that of the volume it connotes the five provinces of human conduct and rules, of which each, while ‘intimately connected’, has its own questions and modes of answering them. In the case of reasoned ‘Virtues and Duties’ (Book II), ‘morality’ signifies the primary part of the whole. Elements of Morality is a work of conservative intent. It is not designed to add to the first-order ethical knowledge we have already (which Whewell takes to be considerable), nor to inquire into how such knowledge is obtained—Whewell supposing himself to keep to the bare essentials. Whewell (, x) wrote the Elements principally to bring method to bear on what we know about how we ought to act, ‘to construct a [moral] system’.15 Our knowledge of rules, duties and virtues is seen as demonstrable by stepwise deductions. The purely ethical part of the system, rational morality comprising Book II, is based by Whewell on the supreme rule of human action or of ‘human nature’, which notion, as ‘universal standard’ of right, is redolent of natural law. From this supreme rule of reason lesser moral rules are drawn, each conveying some part of its content. ‘Moral Rules Exist Necessarily’ Whewell titles one of the chapters in the first book of the Elements, and it is a statement that underlies his explication of basic concepts. The predicate ‘right’ describes con-formity of action to rule. Rules indicate by what actions objects of designated classes may be properly attained. ‘Labour, that you may gain money’ prescribes labouring as ‘the right way to gain’ that object ([2.4], 48). Rules gain validity, and objects value, from superior cases. ‘The Rule, to labour, derives its force from the Rule, to seek gain’ ([2.4], 48). In the same way, it is suggested, rules receive reasons: Why should I labour? To earn income to maintain myself and dependants. Climbing the scale eventually one comes upon an object of intrinsic value, source of value in all other objects. The chain of reasons must if valid likewise have a terminus, one rule exerting sway. So it is that Whewell settles to his own satisfaction the existence of the supreme rule and supreme good. In utilitarianism is recognized by Whewell the main alternative interpretation of ‘right’ and cognate moral terms. He argues against it that pursuit of rightness is distinct from and apt to conflict with wanting to maximize pleasure, and in cases of conflict it is rightness every time that makes the stronger claim on us. To assess an action accurately as right is to provide for its performance a reason, writes Whewell: ‘paramount to all other considerations. If the action be right, it is no valid reason against doing it, that it is unpleasant or dangerous. We are not to do what is pleasant and wrong. We are to do what is unpleasant if it be right’ ([2.4], 6). ‘Right’ is in ethics an absolute term implying a supreme rule as the ultimate reason for action: above all we are to act rightly.16 Whewell’s supreme rule extends beyond morality in the ordinary acceptation of the word. All feelings and conduct are regulated by it, ‘all intercourse of men, all institutions of society’ ([2.4], 77). Rules acquire the property of rightness from expressing portions of the supreme rule of action, but whether Whewell regards as its components all rules that have a defensible claim on conduct is uncertain. He distinguishes moral rules from prudential, but by his ([2.4], 139) description of the latter as ‘not directly moral’ a connection with the supreme rule is not necessarily excluded. What is clear however and for Whewell’s purposes more important is that laws are part of the supreme rule’s content no less than are moral precepts. These are respectively characterized as ‘Rules of external [bodily] action’ and rules of internal action or events—‘Will and Intention,… Desires and Affections’ ([2.4] 68)—which form ‘the only really human part of actions’ ([2.4], 66).17 Laws create rights and correlative obligations; precepts impose duties. While ‘Every thing is right which is conformable to the Supreme Rule of human action’ ([2.4], 54), on another level there exist what Whewell identifies as ‘national’ moralities. ‘Nations and communities…have their Standards of right and wrong’, including positive laws and ‘current moral Precepts and Rules’ ([2.4], 199). From so devout a Christian as was Whewell (Anglican clergyman, doctor of divinity and theologian) it comes as no surprise to learn that ethics is religiously embedded. Natural religion furnishes the idea of the course of nature as in harmony with, as subject to, divine moral government. God governs by laws he wills, that of which in human affairs is foremost being the selfsame supreme rule. Endowed with reason as part of the divine providence individuals are able to, and of course should, act conformably to the divine laws. The Supreme Rule of Human Action derives its Real Authority, and its actual force, from its being the Law of God, the Creator of Man. The Reason for doing what is absolutely right, is, that it is the Will of God, through which the condition and destination of man are what they are. ([2.4], 141) By God’s appointment, violation of his moral laws is punishable by misery, and conformity rewardable with happiness. The apportionment, taking place in the next life, serves to complete the divine ‘moral government’, God determining the final, eternal condition of the soul according to the level of its moral progress when embodied. The ‘history of the world’ recorded in the Scriptures Whewell presumes to be the ‘fact’ corresponding to the ‘idea’ just noted. The part of the Scriptural record of chief importance concerns God’s transactions with humanity, ‘Revelations of the Commands and Promises of God, and of the Methods by which men are to be enabled to obey these Commands, and to receive the benefit of these promises’ ([2.4], 257). The revelation made through Jesus Christ confirms the claims of natural theology. Through the addition of Christian precepts and doctrines to those of rational ethics we are offered, Whewell believes, a more complete picture of the grounds of duty, providing for virtue’s more effective pursuit. Christ embodied in human form the moral perfection we conceive in God, and Christian morality presents this ‘Image of God in Christ’ as the ‘summit of the Moral Progress, which it is our Duty to pursue’ ([2.4], 258). It is important to our hopes and aspirations, and to the way we conduct our lives, that we know whether sinners may be saved from eternal punishment. The answer, to be found in revealed Christian doctrine, is that Christ’s crucifixion, burial and ascent into heaven formed a divine interposition to save humanity from ‘infliction of merited punishment’ ([2.4], 259). Conditions are revealed as necessary to fit the soul for future life: belief in Christ ensures participation in the Holy Spirit, and united with Christ the soul receives its aliment. Law and morality Leslie Stephen ([2.24], 1372) has described as ‘The most curious characteristic’ of Whewell’s ethical writings ‘the prominence given to positive law in the deduction of moral principles’. It is possible to understand Whewell’s ethics only after studying how he relates law to morality, and this requires the disentanglement of a number of threads in his work. Of Whewell’s claims on this subject perhaps the most prominent is that morality depends on law. He opens with an argument that mental desires, our ‘most powerful’ springs of action, can be gratified only if regulated, and on their gratification preservation of the fabric of society depends. Whewell ([2.4], 45–6) in the first instance describes these rules as ‘moral’. This it may be thought is in conflict with the basic dependence relation: ‘that Moral Rules may exist, Men must have Rights’, where ‘rights’ signifies abstract conceptions assigned to people by positive laws that are ‘subordinate to the Supreme Rule’ ([2.4], 51). But upon inspection the conflict turns out to be verbal only, apparent rather than real. ‘Moral’ is in the first sense inclusive of, and used in such a way as to highlight, laws as a type of moral rules, having in the second its usual, more restricted, meaning. At least three claims may be distinguished. There is a thesis, call it ‘causal’, about the possibility of moral conduct: people cannot act morally unless already they obey positive laws. Moral conduct and character presuppose legally ordered society. There is a closely related ontological claim about the possibility of moral rules: ‘We must suppose the Rights of Property, and the Laws of Property, before we can lay down the Moral Rules, Do not steal, or Do not covet another man’s Property’, etc. ([2.4], 55). A further claim, this made in regard to morality’s vocabulary, is that ‘Desires and Intentions cannot be defined or described in any way, without some reference to Things and Actions; and therefore, cannot supply a basis of Morality independent of Law’ ([2.4], 201). Without him saying it in so many words, the precedence of law for Whewell really boils down to it enabling mental desires to be satisfied. More than moral rules, suggests Whewell, laws are directly concerned with constraining conduct and, being enforced, usually succeed in this. Whewell’s follow-up to this is a rather more informative statement that duties (morality) depend upon rights, not in general but of a specific class. What ‘Rights must exist’ are determined by—a common expression in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophical writing—springs of action ([2.4], vii).18 Acts Whewell believes are properly ours when reason directs the will. Through the faculty of reason we discover truth and falsehood, conceive of general rules, recognize actions as cases of rules, and discriminate right from wrong.19 Will represents the final step of intention (purpose), a process of internal motion as Whewell conceives it, produced by springs of action. Springs of action he distinguishes by their ends. Bodily desires for physical objects are appetites, primordial among which are ‘natural wants’ (hunger, thirst). Satisfaction of wants is a source of enjoyment, giving rise to the desire of pleasures of sense. Employment of art to satisfy appetites stimulates artificial wants. As appetites are directed to things, affections (love and anger) tend to people. Most ‘universal and most powerful’ ([2.4], 32) among springs of action are mental desires for abstract conceptions of physical safety, private property, companionship of family and membership of civil society, kept promises and respected agreements (‘mutual understanding’), ‘superiority’ (skill, strength, wealth, or power), and ‘knowledge’ or reason. Moral sentiments (approval, esteem, and their opposites) accompany moral evaluations of actions, disposing us to treat people ‘as we approve or disapprove their actions’ ([2.4], 41). Reflex sentiments are the desire that others would love and esteem us; and desire of honour, fame and self-approval. From mental desires as the predominant springs of action Whewell derives fundamental rights. To have a satisfactory life each person is in need of: protection from assault (right of person), control over physical objects (right of property), dependable conduct from others (right of contract), exclusive relations with certain others (family rights), and an organization to establish rights (rights of government). The rights are to objects of mental desires. (In ‘Jus’, Book IV of the Elements, rights in Roman and English systems of law receive extensive classification under the foregoing heads.) These ‘primary and universal’ rights Whewell respects as absolutely valid, imperatives in all societies. They are rights that must be. ‘Family Rights’, as a case in point, ‘necessarily exist’; while society without ‘Rights of Government…loses its social character; and the moral character of man cannot find its sphere of action’, and so on ([2.4], 52). The most important objects in our lives, those of primary (mental) desires, cannot be secured outside a framework of law. Rights respected are realities; abstract conceptions as objects are thus realized. As we have so far understood Whewell in this part of his thought, his essential theses are two. There is a set of ideal rights corresponding to springs of action. The same rights serve in fact as the indispensable conditions of social order and morality. To this conjunction an objection immediately suggests itself: Is not the proposition that ideal rights necessarily exist contradicted by the variety of laws and rights found both within (temporally) and between societies? The objection is one that Whewell ([2.4], 59) himself anticipates in order to obviate, claiming the positions to be ‘reconcilable’. In this reconcilableness he sees a further case of the fundamental antithesis or distinction between ideas (conceptions) and facts. Ideas of the primary rights are derivations from human nature. There can be no conceiving of people as members of society nor as moral agents except in so far as they have the (ideal) rights to personal safety, property, etc. That said, ideas of rights must be in society as facts. By positive laws the forms so to speak are specifically defined and, on account of being historically conditioned, the definitions of ideas of rights differ between societies. The traveller whom law in one society permits to ‘pluck the fruits of the earth as he passes’ finds such fruits are in another society ‘the Property of him on whose field they grew’. Explains Whewell ([2.4], 59), the ‘Precept, Do not steal’ is absolutely moral and ‘universal’, a corollary of primary rights, whereas ‘the Law, To pluck is to steal’, is historically contingent or ‘partial’. According to the present thesis actual rights (in ‘national moralities’) are in all cases definitions of, and consistent with, the rights identified as ideal. Appearing in Elements of Morality is a further account of rights positive in relation to rights ideal, almost certainly contradicting the account above. In a passage that merits quoting at length we have Whewell (1864:68) saying: positive definitions of Rights for the moment, may be themselves immoral. Rights, as we have described them…, are arrangements not only historically established, but also established in conformity with the supreme Rule; that is, they are such as are right. The actual definitions of Rights at any moment, that is, the state of the Law, may need improvement and reform: but in general, the Law gives, for the moment, the definitions of Rights upon which Morality must proceed.20 Actual rights may be immoral, contradicting ideal rights. So, while positive rights should, the fact is they do not, in all cases assign definite shape to some part or other of the content of ideal rights.21 From his case for morality requiring a specific set of rights Whewell has veered away, apparently unaware of how damaging to his basic doctrine are the implications of such change. Societies may produce, and their ‘national’ moralities may exist on, immoral rights, conflicting with the ideal or ‘primary’ rights and failing to gratify primary desires. Closing coverage of this part of Elements of Morality it may be commented that Whewell’s procedure—grounding ideal rights in human nature—appears strange given his inclusion of the same rights in the supreme rule. To this, the first and fundamental principle of morality, he might have been expected to go and exfoliate the ideal rights directly.22 Rational morality In ‘Morality. Of Virtues and Duties’ we confront the longest and most important of the Elements’ six books. The core of this as of the other parts of Whewell’s ethical thought is the ‘supreme rule’ coupled with the ‘supreme object’. These points have been noted. Whewell early in Book II equates the idea of the supreme object with moral goodness, to which he otherwise refers as virtue or rightness in the soul. The soul attains this state when the faculties (consciousness, reason, will, imagination, and affections) are regulated by virtue and habituated to duty. The supreme object—goodness or virtue—Whewell ([2.4], 241) also designates as happiness, which he specifically says stands for ‘the Supreme Object of our Desires’ and is ‘identical with…the Ultimate and Supreme Guide of our Intentions’. Utilitarians have commonly equated happiness with pleasure, demonstrating to Whewell ([2.4], 254) how confused they are, for in happiness is a compound of ‘all other objects’, whereas pleasure is only that simple state we experience upon the satisfaction of our physical desires. The doctrine of absolutely right action (as action in accordance with the supreme rule) denies that pleasure can be, while confirming that happiness is, the ultimate desire and end. The Desire of Happiness is the Supreme Desire. All other Desires, of Pleasure, Wealth, Power, Fame, are included in this, and are subordinate to it. We may make other objects our ultimate objects; but we can do so, only by identifying them with this. ([2.4], 241)23 No doubt some utilitarians would approve of this, and imagine that Whewell on account of it might be counted as one of them. But although Whewell takes it as true that happiness ought to be increased, he goes on to suggest that there is no possibility of anyone knowing how to go about it. A basket, or if you like an umbrella, concept, no ‘special element’ is implied in happiness while ‘all…objects’ and ‘all good’ are ([2.4], 243). As happiness, Whewell says, is too complex and indeterminate to be measurable, rules for attaining it are out of the question. Whereupon the possibility of Whewell’s project of arranging existing rules-and-objects hierarchically boils down to this: there must be some other way, more fertile of implications, in which to envisage the supreme object. Whewell for his part typically discusses this object with reference to, and in such a way as to identify it with, ‘goodness’, reducing it to five terms—benevolence, justice, truth, purity and order—each with subjective and objective denotations. Subjectively they refer to classes of dispositions or ‘cardinal virtues’, and objectively to ‘abstract mental Objects or Ideas’ ([2.4], 75–6) to which dispositional desires and affections are directed. Benevolence as virtue is the sum of all affections that bring together people, and the absence of feelings that divide; of which the corresponding idea, ‘humanity’, is of the good or well-being of all people.24 Justice as virtue is ‘the Desire that each person should have his own’ ([2.4], 73), and as idea or object is ‘the Rule, To each his own’ ([2.4], 76). Truth as virtue or disposition has as its idea ‘Objective Truth, the agreement between the reality of things and our expressed conceptions of them’ ([2.4], 76). In the state of purity reason and moral sentiments govern bodily desires, the objective counterpart consisting in the idea of human nature ‘free from…mere desire’ ([2.4], 76). Order denotes the disposition to conform willingly to positive laws and moral rules and, objectively, the idea of obedience. Goodness or virtue is the supreme object of action and of rules, subordinate objects all taking their moral value from it. Enjoining us to love virtue (benevolence, justice, etc.) and to seek it ‘as the ultimate and only real object of action’ ([2.4], 77), the supreme rule directs our ‘Affections and Intentions to their proper objects’ ([2.4], 96). Conforming to this rule, character is virtuous and action dutiful, the twin elements serving to make a person good. The supreme rule is possessed of a structure which for the most part reflects its (supreme) object, with matching pairs—objective and subjective—of component rules. Conveying aspects of the supreme rule’s content, express (objective) moral principles have objects in the form of ideas. The principles are those of humanity, ‘Man is to be loved as Man’; justice, ‘Each Man is to have his own’; truth, ‘We must conform to the Universal Understanding among men which the use of Language implies’, desisting from lying; purity, ‘The Lower parts of our Nature are to be governed by, and subservient to, the Higher’; and order, ‘positive Laws [are to be obeyed] as the necessary Conditions of Morality’ ([2.4], 95–6). Completing the list of express principles are: earnestness, ‘The Affections and Intentions must not only be rightly directed, but energetic’; and moral purpose, ‘Things are to be sought universally, not only in subservience to moral rules, but as means to moral ends’ ([2.4], 96). The supreme rule’s other set of principles Whewell distinguishes as ‘operative’. These have to be cultivated; express principles being incorporated into the character of an individual habitually to guide affections and purposes, functioning as springs of action. Specific virtues and duties, the bulk of the materials of rational morality, Whewell explicates in terms of, and distributes according to, the plan above. Virtues are a subclass— those that are desirable—of the habits or dispositions of inner states (desires, affections and volitions), combining to form an agent’s moral character. Duties are right actions, the ways in which we ought to conduct ourselves. Virtues exist and operate unconsciously, while duties are conscious. Between the two Whewell finds a relation approaching to concomitance. Duties need not issue from virtues (motives to right actions may be amoral, even immoral), but virtues are manifested in and developed by performance of duties, and by cultivation of virtues performance of corresponding duties is made more likely. ‘Acts of Duty are both the most natural operation of virtuous Dispositions, and the most effectual mode of forming virtuous Habits’ ([2.4], 97). Distinguishing duties in relation to objects, Whewell’s basic categorization of them is similar to that of cardinal virtues, with duties of affections (benevolence), property, truth, purity, and order. A duty of cultivating the affections is also recognized, reducible to which is a duty of the affections: the ‘Duty of thus cultivating these Affections includes the Duty of possessing such affections’ ([2.4], 115). It is unclear whether Whewell believes all duties owed to other people involve the duty of affection, but at least those of justice and truth in his view do. From these primary duties, enjoined by the ‘express’ principles of morality, Whewell goes on to deduct rationally many specific rules of duty, but their enumeration shall not detain us. The general classification of duties reappears to shape discussion in other parts of Elements. The book ‘Polity’ has chapters on the State’s duties of ‘Justice and Truth’, ‘Humanity’, ‘Purity’ and ‘Order’. Explicating religious ethics, Christian precepts are arranged by Whewell under such headings as ‘Duties of the Affections’, ‘Property’, ‘Truth’, ‘Purity’, ‘Obedience and Command’. One further duty to be noted is that of moral progress, incumbent on States and individuals alike. The State must be recognized as an agent given that it, among other things, ‘makes war and peace, which it may do justly or unjustly; keeps Treaties, or breaks them; educates its children, or neglects them’ ([2.4], 208). Continuously existing, purposive and active, States are moral beings endowed with life, and ‘During this Life, it is their Duty to conform their being more and more to the Moral Ideas’ ([2.4], 208). By its duty of moral progress the State is obliged to acquire more virtue and to perform its duties better. It must become more just and act more justly (observe treaties with, and respect possessions of, other States; make laws that remedy inequalities from the past), become more benevolent and act more benevolently (liberate slaves, relieve poverty), and so on. What meaning is to be given to Whewell’s talk of the State as a subject of virtue, and of it being by the enhancement of its own virtue disposed to perform duties better? It seems probable he regards this virtue and its increase as a function of citizens: And, as the condition of other Duties being performed, the moral Education of its citizens, and consequently of itself, is a Duty of the State. It is its Duty to establish in the minds of its children, and to unfold more and more into constant and progressive operation, the Moral Ideas of Benevolence, Justice, Truth, Purity, and Order. ([2.4.], 208, emphasis added) Correspondingly, to the individual is ascribed a ‘reflex’ duty of moral progress or of moral self-culture. The character should according to this duty be developed as far as possible towards the ideal centre of morality at which, the point of goodness, cardinal virtues represent tendencies (‘operative principles’) of conduct so firmly established that no duty can ever be transgressed. Among the requirements of this duty, benevolent affections of gratitude to benefactors, compassion to the afflicted and love between family members are to be made steadier and more earnest; the malevolent feelings of violent anger, peevishness and captiousness are to be suppressed. Justice is to be developed as an operative principle, the character being cleansed of stains of greed, covetousness, and partiality; the agent desiring only possessions to which she or he is entitled and only for moral purposes. The individual is likewise called on to foster the other virtues—truth, purity, order—while eliminating desires running contrary to them. ‘We have to form our character, so that these principles [benevolence, justice, truth, purity, and order] are its predominant features. We have to seek not only to do, but to be; not only to perform acts of Duty, but to become virtuous’ ([2.4], 142). The duty of moral progress is itself performed, just as the several virtues are most effectively cultivated, by performance of the other, more particular, duties. And in opposite fashion whenever temptations are succumbed to and rules of duty transgressed, when affections are malevolent and intentions fraudulent, moral progress ceases and the character goes down ‘a retrograde moral course’ ([2.4], 143). While the present study of Whewell’s view of ethics has concentrated on that which he labels ‘rational morality’ as the truly distinctive, striking and substantial part of his teaching, it is as well to remind ourselves that this department depends for him in a most fundamental manner on religion. The cardinal virtues, as noted, are conceived of by Whewell as perfectly realized in God and as having had embodiment in human form in Christ. The supreme rule of rational morality is the rule of God which fact in conjunction with his imposition of sanctions provides the compelling reason for obeying it. The supreme rule as understood by Whewell derives its Real Authority, and its actual force, from its being the Law of God, the Creator of Man. The Reason for doing what is absolutely right, is, that it is the Will of God, through which the condition and destination of man are what they are. ([2.4], 141) The rule commends to us, and commands us to emulate, the character of Jesus, moral progress having the goal of ‘a godlike being and a heavenly life’ ([2.4], x). On our success in following the supreme law and in making moral progress depends our prospect of happiness in this life and, more so, the next. Postscript It is natural to ask whether in its structure and method Whewell’s analysis of morality resembles his philosophy of science. There is a difficulty to be faced, however, before answering this, the two main works in question, Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences and Elements of Morality, including Polity, each being predominantly on a different level from the other. Rehearsal of some basic distinctions will enable us to identify more clearly the source of the difficulty. Concerning the subject-matter of physical objects and processes (level 1), scientists advance prepositional laws and theories (level 2), with philosophers theorizing scientific practice and products (level 3). Whewell’s Philosophy is a contribution on the third of these levels. The corresponding levels of ethics put simply are: human agents and actions, rules dictating how agents ought to conduct themselves, and meta-ethical theories of the discovery and evaluation of right rules. Most of Elements of Morality occupies the second level, systematizing occurrent rules, duties and virtues. Philosophical analysis of ethical knowledge and its methods is not its major concern. We are not altogether without material for comparison, Whewell producing some philosophy in the Elements, but for comparison to be full and rigorous more of such matter would be needed. We proceed bearing in mind this caveat. Whewell himself ([2.5], 168) speaks confidently of the ‘analogy between the progress of the science of Morals and other sciences’. Concepts and knowledge in both subjects form part of the flux of history. In Elements of Morality ([2.4], 202), for example, it is observed generally that ‘As the intellectual culture of the nation proceeds, abstract words are used with more precision; and in consequence, the conceptions, designated by such words, grow clearer in men’s minds’. Whereas progress of scientific theories turns for Whewell on wider colligations, that of ethical rules is accounted for by him differently,25 the key apparently being morality’s interaction with law. Definitions that laws give of rights vary socially and historically, and the virtues and duties supported in society depend upon its laws. At the same time morality exercises authority over law and, as a nation’s morality improves, laws should be and, Whewell it would appear believes, typically are brought into line. Exactly how improvement in morality is effected and how people have in the past been able to tell that morality was changing to the good are matters which in Whewell remain obscure. Perhaps Christianity’s revealed morality has acted as both inspiration for and criterion of improvement in national moralities. But whether (as I am inclined to believe) or not this speculation constitutes Whewell’s opinion on the matter, the main point at the moment is that Elements of Morality has no doctrine corresponding to that of colligatory trial and error. Whewell as explained sees a corpus of real moral knowledge having formed through history. It is to this knowledge, expressed in rules, that under the rubric of ‘rational morality’ he imparts systematic shape. The axioms employed by him to this end are, like those he locates in science, understood by Whewell to be presuppositions of knowledge, embedded in ideas. Yet their roles are appreciably different: axioms are in rational ethics used for proving claims to knowledge (whether rules are right), which in science falls to the lot of the a posteriori test of consilience, axioms transmitting necessity to, and assisting deductive ordering of, propositions less general. The presence in science and ethics of the ‘fundamental antithesis’ provides what is for Whewell perhaps their most striking similarity. The antithesis is recognized in Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences in its second edition ([2.3], x) as ‘suited to throw light upon Moral and Political Philosophy, no less than upon Physical’. Now without in any way gainsaying that Whewell often employs the terms ‘idea’ and ‘fact’ in Elements of Morality, one does find that phenomena to which he applies them are in their natures most diverse. He for example writes of ideas and conceptions of primary rights, and of their ‘definitions’ by positive laws as facts. In another part of the work, as already we have had cause to comment, he finds in natural religion the idea ‘of the course of the World’, whose corresponding fact is God’s manifestations in history (revealed religion). But Whewell’s principal usage, of ‘idea’ at any rate (for he is silent on what the term ‘fact’ might in this case mean),26 is that which we find in his explication of rational moral-ity. And the way in which he understands ideas here is nothing like how he understands them in his philosophy of science. Whewellian ideas in rational ethics are ideals forming subjects of inquiry. To know their content is to have moral knowledge about what rules are right. In science, by contrast, ideas are conditions of and materials for knowledge, of which physical reality is the subject. Gaining knowledge of that reality, a scientist at the same time gains knowledge of ideas, but the latter is more properly regarded as a secondary effect of enquiry rather than as its purpose. Whewell has been described as having ‘written with an explicit view not merely to embrace the world of learning but to synthesize it and render it a unified intellectual whole’ (Fisch [2.13], 31), and this may well be true. But if he so sought synthesis and unification, what has been said in this paper must cast doubts on whether he attained them. NOTES A significant portion of the research for this study was undertaken in 1992 during a Visiting Fellowship at The Australian National University’s Research School of Social Sciences. The author gratefully acknowledges the support of Professor Geoffrey Brennan, the School’s Director, and that of Professor Eugene Kamenka, chair of the Research School’s History of Ideas Unit. For helpful comments on draft versions of the paper he thanks: Mr Kerry Cardell, Professor David Walker, Dr George Zollschan, and Dr Frank Maher. 1 ‘Whewell himself regarded his History of the Inductive Sciences…and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences…as both the crowning achievement of his career and the unifying “hard core” of his entire system of thought’ ([2.12], 2). I shall in what follows also refer to these works simply as History and Philosophy. References unless otherwise indicated are to the reprint editions (1967). 2 Cohen ([2.7], 528ff.) is illuminating on Whewell’s notion of revolution. 3 Schipper ([2.20], 49), after noting several respects in which Whewell’s historiography of science anticipates that unfolded by Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, argues that in this—cognitive continuity (Whewell) as against discontinuity (Kuhn)—consists their major difference. This leads on to a further difference: science from Kuhn’s standpoint is ultimately aimless while Whewell ascribes to it the aim of truth. 4 As Richard Gregory ([2.14], 219), distinguished psychologist of perception, states: ‘objects have a host of characteristics beyond their sensory features. They have pasts and futures; they change and influence each other, and have hidden aspects which emerge under different conditions’ (emphasis added). Whewell’s account of perception (and of facts) has a readily discernible counterpart—‘theory-dependence of observation’—in writings of such twentiethcentury figures as Karl Popper, N.R.Hanson, and Kuhn. 5 As explicitly defined, ‘ideas’ refers ‘to certain comprehensive forms of thought,—as space, number,…—which we apply to the phenomena which we contemplate’. Whewell ([2.3], 2:5– 6) then proceeds to define the important related term—‘conceptions’—as ‘special modifications of these ideas’, giving as examples ‘a circle, a square number, an accelerating force, a neutral combination of elements’. 6 A fine-grained, more technical and more manifestly prescriptive rendering by Whewell of scientific methods is in Book XIII of the Philosophy. Ducasse ([2.9], 183–217) digests this particular book; Todhunter ([2.25], 139–42) detects several discrepancies between its structure and that of Book XI. 7 With reference to their disregard of this condition Whewell explains the Greeks’ failure fully to cultivate science, whereas in the ‘Stationary Period’, as noted, the accent was the opposite, on ideas at the expense of facts. 8 This suggests that facts are reports of perceptions of concrete objects and events. ‘Fact’ for Whewell may also cover theories or inductions as candidates for explanation. In the latter distinction theories and facts are of the same nature, have the same properties, the distinction being time-dependent and relative. 9 Niiniluoto [2.18] deals at length, in most interesting fashion, with this and other similarities between the images of science of Whewell and Popper. 10 This explication of consilience owes a great deal to that of Fisch [2.11]. 11 According to Fisch ([2.10], 287; [2.12], 158) Whewell’s axioms are true only of ideas. But if, as quite clearly Whewell maintains, axioms are true ‘beyond… experience’ they must also be true within and of it. He is to be understood as saying that axioms (1) express the content of ideas, and (2) are propositions about physical reality. 12 Some would say (e.g. Fisch [2.10]; [2.12]) that Whewell’s Mechanical Euclid provides ample evidence for this claim. But Whewell there on my reading presents the distinction between inductive (non-necessary) and non-inductive (necessary) truths in mechanics as absolute rather than as epistemologically relative (to the state of knowledge). So no matter what he may say or suggest to the contrary, on his account of it in that work, the non- BIBLIOGRAPHY Works by Whewell 2.1——History of the Inductive Sciences, London: Parker, 3 vols, 1st edn, 1837, 2nd edn, 1847, 3rd edn, 1857; 3rd edn, reprinted by Cass, London, 1967. 2.2——The Mechanical Euclid, London: Parker, 1837. 2.3——The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded Upon Their History, London: Parker, 1st edn, 2 vols, 1840, 2nd edn, 1847, 3rd edn, 3 vols, 1856–60; 2nd edn, reprinted by Cass, London, 1967. necessary truths cannot and can never be logical derivatives of the necessary. That which is true (but could be false) is not among the implications of that which must be true. 13 Again, aside from those passages already referred to, Whewell should be seen as operating with just such a distinction in his opening account of necessity in Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences ([2.1], 54–73). 14 The paucity of exceptions serving to prove this rule are Schneewind ([2.21] and [2.22], 101– 17) and Donagan [2.8]. 15 About this Whewell is clearest in the preface of the first edition. See also the letter in Stair Douglas ([2.23], 326), and the preface of the fourth edition ([2.4], 3 and 6). 16 For further discussion of happiness and of utilitarianism see Whewell [2.5], x, 170ff., 174ff., and 188ff.; [2.4], 125–6, 254ff. 17 Not always faithful to this characterization, Whewell ([2.4], 244) may on occasion subsume external action under precepts. 18 The language of necessity (‘must’), freely employed in the Elements, is ambiguous in signifying what ought to be (ideal morality), or else what cannot but exist (in ‘national’ moralities) in that human nature demands and cannot survive without it. Arguing that certain rights ‘must’ exist, Whewell conflates both senses. 19 For extensive enumeration of the operations of the faculty of reason see Whewell [2.4], 23–4. 20 Other relations between rights and morality are delineated later in the work ([2.4], 201f., 229ff., 337ff.). 21 The same contradiction between this and his doctrine about necessary rights is latent in a note in the second and subsequent editions ([2.4], 62). 22 This calls into question the categorization of Whewell as an ‘intuitionist’. Tracing rights from human nature his method is a combination of empiricism and deduction. 23 This embracing conception of happiness is noteworthy for being akin to that which one finds in John Stuart Mill’s ‘utilitarianism’. 24 Not the least of the difficulties facing the reader of Elements is that a number of key terms have different denotations which Whewell fails to mark. ‘Ideas’ is a case in point: usually referring to a select class of ideals or objects of action, Whewell ([2.4], 94–5) may also apply it to dispositions to seek those objects. 25 Similarity of methods is suggested, it is true, in the Lectures ([2.5], 168) but not shown, and careful examination of the texts uncovers no evidence of it. 26 Schneewind ([2.21], 120) speaks in this context of ‘Human Nature’ as the corresponding ‘fact’, but he provides no evidential support to show Whewell has this in mind and, so far as this author can ascertain, none exists. 2.4——The Elements of Morality, including Polity, London: Parker, 1st edn, 2 vols, 1845, 2nd edn, 1848, 3rd edn, 1854, 4th edn, 1 vol., 1864. 2.5——Lectures on The History of Moral Philosophy in England, London: Parker, 1852; reprinted by Thoemmes, Bristol, 1990. 2.6——On the Philosophy of Discovery, London: Parker, 1860; reprinted New York, Burt Franklin, 1971 (vol. 3 of 3rd edn, Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences). Other works cited 2.7 Cohen, I. Revolution in Science, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1985. 2.8 Donagan, A. ‘Whewell’s Elements of Morality’, The Journal of Philosophy, 71 (1974):724–36. 2.9 Ducasse, C. ‘William Whewell’s Philosophy of Scientific Discovery’, in E. Madden (ed.), Theories of Scientific Method: The Renaissance through the Nineteenth Century, New York: Gordon and Breach, 1989, 183–217. 2.10 Fisch, M. ‘Necessary and Contingent Truth in William Whewell’s Antithetical Theory of Knowledge’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 16 (1985): 275– 314. 2.11——‘Whewell’s Consilience of Inductions: An Evaluation’, Philosophy of Science, 52 (1985):239–55. 2.12——William Whewell Philosopher of Science, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991. 2.13——‘A Philosopher’s Coming of Age: A Study in Erotetic Intellectual History’, in M.Fisch and S.Schaffer (eds) William Whewell: A Composite Portrait, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991, 31–66. 2.14 Gregory, R. Eye and Brain, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981. 2.15 Jacobs, S. ‘John Stuart Mill on Induction and Hypotheses’, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 29 (1991):69–83. 2.16——Science and British Liberalism, Aldershot: Avebury, 1991. 2.17 Mill, J. A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981. 2.18 Niiniluoto, I. ‘Notes on Popper as Follower of Whewell and Peirce’ in I. Niiniluoto (ed.), Is Science Progressive?, Dordrecht: Reidel, 1984, 18–60. 2.19 Ruse, M. ‘The Scientific Methodology of William Whewell’, Centaurus, 20 (1976):227–57. 2.20 Schipper, F. ‘William Whewell’s Conception of Scientific Revolutions’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 19 (1988):43–53. 2.21 Schneewind, J. ‘Whewell’s Ethics’ in N.Rescher (ed.), Studies in Moral Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell, 1968, 108–41. 2.22 Schneewind, J. Sidgwick’s Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986. 2.23 Stair Douglas, J. The Life Selections from the Correspondence of William Whewell, D.D, London: Kegan Paul, 1881. Reprinted Bristol: Thoemmes, 1991. 2.24 Stephen, L. ‘Whewell, William’, The Dictionary of National Biography, London: Oxford University Press, vol. 20, 1967–8, 1365–74. 2.25 Todhunter, I. William Whewell, D.D. Master of Trinity College Cambridge: An Whewell’s philosophy of science and ethics 49 Account of his Writings with Selections from his Literary and Scientific Correspondence, London: Macmillan, vol. 1, 1876.
Routledge History of Philosophy. Taylor & Francis e-Library. 2005.