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Shaftesbury and the Modern Problem of Virtue*

  • Douglas J. Den Uyl (a1)


Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671–1713), the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, was the grandson of the First Earl of Shaftesbury (also Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1621–1683). The First Earl, along with John Locke, was a leader and founder of the Whig movement in Britain. Locke was the First Earl's secretary and also the tutor of the Third Earl. Both the First and Third Earls were members of parliament and supporters of Whig causes. Although both the First and Third Earls were involved in politics, the Third Earl is better known for intellectual pursuits. Indeed, the Third Earl (henceforth simply “Shaftesbury”) is second only to Locke in terms of influence during the eighteenth century. Yet if one takes into account effects upon literature, the arts, and manners, as well as upon philosophical trends and theories, Shaftesbury might be even more influential. Even if we restrict ourselves to philosophy, Shaftesbury's ideas were admired by thinkers as different as Leibniz and Montesquieu—something which could obviously not be said about Locke. Within ethics, Shaftesbury influenced Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Samuel Butler, and Adam Smith and is credited with founding the “moral sense” school of thought.



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1 Shaftesbury, 's Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (the Thoemes Press reprint of John M. Robertson's 1900 edition [2 vols.] will be referred to throughout, including the 1914 reprint of the Benjamin Rand edition of the Second Characters or the Language of forms [a separate volume], and his 1900 edition of The Life and Letters of Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury [also a separate volume, including Shaftesbury's Philosophical Regimen]) went through eleven editions during this century; Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding went through nineteen. This point is made by Grean, Stanley, Shaftesbury's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics: A Study in Enthusiasm (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1967), p. ix; and by Brett, R. L., The Third Earl of Shaftesbury: A Study in Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory (London: Hutch-inson House, 1951), pp. 186–87. Both works, as well as a number of others, discuss Shaftesbury's influence in greater detail than can be attempted here.

2 Grean, , Shaftesbury's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, p. xvi.

3 Grean (ibid.) considers enthusiasm to be central; Brett, optimism (The Third Earl of Shaftesbury); Klein, politeness (Klein, Lawrence E., Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994]); Darwall, the normative will (Darwall, Stephen, “Motive and Obligation in the British Moralists,” Social Philosophy and Policy, vol. 7, no. 1 [Autumn 1989], pp. 133–50; The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’: 1640–1740 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995], ch. 7); and Marshall, self-identity (Marshall, David, The Figure of Theater: Shaftesbury, Defoe, Adam Smith, and George Eliot [New York: Columbia University Press, 1986], Part I).

4 See Robertson's introduction to the Thoemes Press edition of Shaftesbury's Characteristics. Robertson seems to be the only one to draw the connection between Shaftesbury and Spinoza. The connection to the Cambridge Platonists, by contrast, is commonplace among scholars.

5 Marshall, , The Figure of Theater, is something of an exception to this. Grean explicitly mentions the problem of reading Shaftesbury in the preface to Shaftesbury's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, pp. xvii–xix, but he does not use it as an argument for reading Shaftesbury but as an explanation for the different interpretations of him.

6 The following is a list of Shaftesbury's works (page references to these works will be given parenthetically in the text): A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm (hereafter Enthusiasm); Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour (Freedom); Soliloquy or Advice to an Author (Soliloquy); An Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit (Inquiry); The Moralists, A Philosophical Rhapsody (Moralists); Miscellaneous Reflections on the Preceding Treatises, etc. (MR); Second Characters or the Language of Forms (Second Characters); Plastics or the Original Progress and Power of Designatory Art (Plastics); and The Philosophical Regimen (Regimen). The first six works are collected in Shaftesbury's Characteristics (supra note 1).

7 See the quotation that ends this paragraph for confirmation of this point.

8 Shaftesbury is reported to have always carried with him Epictetus's Commentaries and Enchiridion (along with a few other works, including Horace).

9 Horace (see more below) was apparently also deliberately “unsystematic”: “The arrangement [of Horace's work] was carefully contrived, though it avoided the appearance of being systematic. … But aside from special placing of certain poems, the general effect that Horace sought to secure was one of constant variety. … In this way he kept the reader's attention fresh, set off contrasting poems, and made the most of the relatively small number of poetic themes to which he recurred over and over again” (Whicher, George F., “Introduction,” in Selected Poems of Horace [New York: Van Nostrand Co., 1947], pp. xixxx). A similar point might be made with respect to Shaftesbury. It is certain that he was a self-conscious writer, as one can see from his “Idea of the Work” that begins the Second Characters. He was also quite willing to deliberately hide or obscure his point: “[R]emember still, this the idea of the work, viz.: quasi. The vehicle of other problems, i.e., the precepts, demonstrations, etc. of real ethics. But this hid: not to be said except darkley or pleasantly with raillery upon self; or some such indirect way as in Miscellany” (Second Characters, 6).

10 Klein, , Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, pp. 176–77, offers some discussion of this. Shaftesbury's own discussion of Horace's philosophy can be found in his letter to Pierre Coste of October 1, 1706, in Rand, ed., Life and Letters.

11 Locke (in his “Memoirs of the Life of Earl of Shaftesbury,” in The Works of John Locke, 12th ed. [London, 1824], vol. 8, p. 272) says that the First Earl — who was more the mentor of the Third than his own father — believed “that there were in every one, two men, the wise and the foolish, and that each of them must be allowed his turn. If you would have the wise, the grave, and the serious, always to rule and have the sway, the fool would grow so peevish and troublesome, that he would put the wise man out of order and make him fit for nothing.” This may, in part, explain not just the idea of splitting oneself apart, but also the Third Earl's defense of enthusiasm and wit.

12 The Moralists is a dialogue with two main characters, Theocles and Philocles. It is common to assume that Theocles is Shaftesbury, but it seems to me that in some sense Shaftesbury is neither Theocles nor Philocles. While Theocles does come out ahead, that could be for purposes of edification, consistent with what I say below about the general posture of Shaftesbury's writings. But apart from the question of why someone like Shaftesbury would rank “Theo” above “Philo,” we are told that Philocles was a railleur (MR, 335) — something Shaftesbury defends in his Sensus Communis — and that he (Shaftesbury) adopted the role of the skeptic (MR, 351).

13 Marshall, , The Figure of Theater, p. 58ff. The notes collected in Shaftesbury's Philosophical Regimen are central examples of such soliloquies, as I note below.

14 This last point would be further reinforced if the author ranked some texts as superior to others, as he does with the Inquiry versus The Moralists (MR, 333). It is the Inquiry that philosophers usually take as the decisive, or at least as the central, text. But Shaftesbury says further about that work (referring to himself in the third person [see note 16 below]): “‘Tis in his following treatise [Inquiry] that he discovers himself openly as a plain dogmatist, a formalist, and man of method; with his hypothesis tacked to him, and his opinions so close sticking as would force one to call to mind the figure of some precise and strait-laced professor in a university” (MR, 240). Shaftesbury did not have a high opinion of university professors.

15 Marshall, , The Figure of Theater, p. 19.

16 Marshall (ibid.) points out, for example, that “Shaftesbury is not only writing in the character of someone else, the author of the Miscellaneous Reflections; but the character of the Miscellaneous Reflections author is imitating and impersonating the author of the first treatises. In other words, Shaftesbury — if we can call him that — is personating someone else who personates Shaftesbury in order to soliloquize about what constitutes the ‘I.’ Who is speaking here?” (p. 46).

17 Marshall, , The Figure of Theater, p. 66.

18 Ibid., p. 61.

19 Ibid., p. 66.

20 “He who deals in characters must of necessity know his own, or he will know nothing. And he who would give the world a profitable entertainment of this sort, should be sure to profit, first, by himself. For in this sense, Wisdom as well as Charity may be honestly said to begin at home…. Tecum habita el noris quam sit tibi curia suppellex. [‘Live at home and learn how slenderly furnished your apartments are.’—Persius, Sat. iv. 52.]” (Soliloquy, 124).

21 “Our modern authors, on the contrary, are turned and modelled (as themselves confess) by the public relish and current humour of the times. They regulate themselves by the irregular fancy of the world, and frankly own they are preposterous and absurd, in order to accommodate themselves to the genius of the age. In our days the audience makes the poet, and the bookseller the author, with what profit to the public, or what prospect of lasting fame and honour to the writer, let any one who has judgment imagine” (Soliloquy, 172–73).

22 “For if real gentlemen seduced, as you pretend, and made erroneous in their religion or philosophy, discover not the least feature of their real faces in your looking glass, nor know themselves in the least by your description, they will hardly be apt to think they are refuted” (MR, 340).

23 One might believe that later authors, such as Hume and Berkeley (who both wrote dialogues), disprove Shaftesbury. But one has only to read these to see how different they are from ancient dialogues, which, as I noted above, have moral improvement as their purpose and a certain degree of ambiguity as a part of their form and function. The dialogues of Hume and Berkeley, by contrast, while not lacking in subtlety, are straightforwardly discursive and not necessarily aimed at moral improvement.

24 Klein draws a similar conclusion at the end of his book Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness: “The training of the public in morals and taste became a central task. Characteristics and Shaftesbury's other writings were attempts first to define that task and second to carry it out” (p. 212). Shaftesbury himself says of the Soliloquy that his purpose was “to recommend morals on the same foot with what in a lower sense is called manners, and to advance philosophy (as harsh a subject as it may appear) on the very foundation of what is called agreeable and polite” (MR, 257).

25 MacIntyre, Alasdair, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), p. 267.

26 Taylor, Charles, Sources of the Self (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 252.

27 “To philosophise … is but to carry good-breeding a step higher. For the accomplishment of breeding is, to learn whatever is decent in company or beautiful in arts; and the sum of philosophy is, to learn what is just in society and beautiful in Nature and the order of the world” (MR, 255).

28 Klein points out (Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, p. 117) that “the Inquiry antedated Shaftesbury's confrontation with the stoics and the years of his most intense self-examination, when his mature character was formed.”

29 The Robertson edition of the Characteristics (supra note 1) provides the translations of the Latin, which I have included here. The Cicero citation is in Latin in the text and translated in the footnote.

30 Shaftesbury, 's Philosophical Regimen has a chapter on the nature of philosophy, which strongly supports my argument here. To quote but one brief passage: “[T]he work of philosophy is to fortify a mind, to learn how to be secure against avarice, ambition, intemperance; how to throw off cowardice and effeminacy …” (269). Shaftesbury also defines philosophy in this work as “the study of happiness.”

31 One sees in this the origins of the skepticism about metaphysics later found in such authors as Hume and Smith. Like Shaftesbury, they reject what has no bearing on action, but otherwise their reasons may be different.

32 Todd Breyfogle has pointed out to me that Augustine's view of Socrates was like Xenophon's. Augustine said (City of God, Book VIII, ch. 3) that Socrates was the first “who directed the entire effort of philosophy to the correction and regulation of manners.” Augustine too has a dialogue entitled “Soliloquia.” For other Augustine connections, also due to the suggestions of Breyfogle, see note 82 below. John Cooper and Julia Annas have both indicated to me that Socrates was typically more revered by the Stoics than was Plato.

33 See Wind, E., “Shaftesbury as a Patron of Art,” Journal of the Warburg Institute, vol. 2, no. 1 (1938), p. 186; and Sweetman, J. E., “Shaftesbury's Last Commission,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 19 (1956), p. 114.

34 Paknadel, Felix, “Shaftesbury's Illustrations of Characteristics,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 37 (1974). This extremely useful article explains in detail the symbolism of each of the “emblems” of the Characteristics. Emblems were images that usually accompanied a text with a moral message and represented that message in some way. Emblem books were especially popular about a century before Shaftesbury.

35 Ibid., p. 290.

36 See, e.g., The Moralists, p. 150.

37 Quoted in a letter from Shaftesbury “to a friend” (probably Lord Cowper), December 1704, in Rand, , ed., Life and Letters, pp. 344–45. The responses of Shaftesbury, which follow, are also from this letter.

38 Indeed, in a letter to Michael Ainsworth in 1709 (in ibid., p. 403), Shaftesbury blames Locke more than Hobbes for the corruption of ethics into self-interest (“‘Twas Mr. Locke that struck at all fundamentals”), though he maintains allegiance with Locke in politics.

39 “[F]rom all this we may easily conclude how much our happiness depends on natural and good affection. For if the chief happiness be from the mental pleasures, and the chief mental pleasures are such as we have described, and are founded in natural affection, it follows ‘that to have the natural affections is to have the chief means and power of self enjoyment, the highest possession and happiness of life’” (Inquiry, 309). Pages 304 and 314 offer similar opportunities for citation. See my caveats about this treatise elsewhere (e.g., in note 14). Natural affections are distinguished from self-affections and unnatural affections. The natural affections in this treatise are a kind of base disposition that has a tendency toward social cooperation. In the Philosophical Regimen (p. 3ff.) natural affection is more generally living according to the whole order of nature. In all cases natural affection is normative and teleological and not of the sort one might find in Hume's writings, where avarice or resentment were more “natural” than, say, benevolence and justice.

40 “[T]he admiration and love of order, harmony, and proportion, in whatever kind, is naturally improving to the temper, advantageous to social affection, and highly assistant to virtue …” (Inquiry, 279).

41 See, e.g., Inquiry, p. 275ff.

42 But Shaftesbury says, for example, that “if religion, interposing, creates a belief that the ill passions of this kind, no less than their consequent actions, are the objects of a Deity's animadversion, ‘tis certain that such a belief must prove a seasonable remedy against vice, and be in a particular manner advantageous to virtue” (Inquiry, 270). See note 44.

43 The full text is no less shocking. It goes on to say: “For ill dreams will be equally disturbing; and a good dreazm (if life be nothing else) will be easily and happily passed. In this dream of life, therefore, our demonstrations have the same force; our balance and economy hold good, and our obligation to virtue is in every respect the same.” Would a practical orientation lead one to have little concern for theoretical objectivity?

44 For example, Shaftesbury writes: “[W]hoever, therefore, by any strong persuasion or settled judgment, thinks in the main that virtue causes happiness and vice misery, carries with him that security and assistance to virtue that is required” (Inquiry, 274). See note 42.

45 In The Moralists (pp. 52–53), Theocles connects virtue to moral realism. Since this is a dialogue, it is sometimes hard to know who represents Shaftesbury. I am convinced that it is not Theocles alone.

46 He goes on to say in this same passage: “For such indeed is the truly virtuous man, whose art, though ever so natural in itself or justly founded in reason and nature, is an improvement far beyond the common stamp of known character of human kind.”

47 In his discussion of Shaftesbury, Stephen Darwall claims that “Shaftesbury was the first to advance the normative theory of will that would prove so important to the autonomist internalist tradition and, most especially, to Kant” (Darwall, , The British Moralists, p. 177). I would certainly not dispute Darwall's attribution of influences, but the award should go to Spinoza as the first to internalize the ought. Spinoza's concept of “activity” and “freedom,” as described in Ethica 4 and 5, is nothing but the internalization of the normative. Robertson, the editor of Shaftesbury's Inquiry, attributes a great deal of influence to Spinoza (p. xxxiii) and cites him throughout the Inquiry. But I have not been able to confirm this, and Robertson offers no evidence other than some similarity of doctrine. There is one place in The Moralists where “substance,” “mode,” and “accident” are used (p. 103) and where a Spinozistic monism shows itself (p. 99). Robertson does not, for some reason, note these. In any case, the issue of internalization is discussed below in Section IIIB.

48 Williams, Bernard, Making Sense of Humanity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 153–71.

49 Ibid., pp. 169–70.

50 Sidgwick, Henry, The Methods of Ethics (London: Macmillan, 1907; reissued 1962), p. 106.

51 I have argued for theoretical underdetermination elsewhere: see Uyl, Den, The Virtue of Prudence (New York: Peter Lang, 1991), pp. 176–81.

52 Salkever, Stephen G., Finding the Mean (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 117.

53 Ibid., p. 137.

54 Smith, Adam, Lecture on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (Indianapolis, IN: LibertyClassics, 1985), p. 57.

55 Soliloquy, p. 195.

56 In support of this point and what is said below, Shaftesbury says the following about what seems to be the most physical of attractions, namely the attraction to beautiful women: “They must still allow, there is a beauty of the mind, and such as is essential in the case. Why else is the very air of foolishness enough to cloy a lover at first sight? Why does an idiot-look and manner destroy the effect of those outward charms, and rob the fair one of her power, though regularly armed in all the exactness of features and complexion? We may imagine what we please of a substantial solid part of beauty; but were the subject to be well criticised we should find, perhaps, that what we most admired, even in the turn of outward features, was only a mysterious expression, and a kind of shadow of something inward in the temper …” (Freedom, 91).

57 Brett argues that the central problem of the age was deciding whether beauty appealed to reason or feeling, and he gives Kant the credit for solving it by saying that aesthetic judgments are universal subjective ones (Brett, , The Third Earl of Shaftesbury, p. 137ff.). Shaftesbury is considered a precursor to this solution. About Shaftesbury, Brett says: “[T]he judgment of beauty comes first. It is because we consider a thing beautiful that we obtain aesthetic pleasure from it. What is universally valid is the state of mind which gives rise to the pleasure, that is the aesthetic judgment” (139). Unlike Kant, however, who at least by Brett's account separates the beautiful from the good, Shaftesbury unites them and would consider their separation an inadequate or partial understanding of their connection.

58 The three levels should not be confused with the three types of “distinction of characters” Shaftesbury speaks of in the Plastics, p. 90. Because the language is not always clear, here is the text I am drawing from: “why first, the dead forms … which bear a fashion, and are formed, whether by man or Nature, but have no forming power, no action or intelligence. … Next, and as the second kind, the forms which form, that is, which have intelligence, action, and operation. … And here you have unawares discovered that third order of beauty, which forms not only such as we call mere forms but even the forms which form” (Moralists, 132, 133).

59 Although it is difficult to support this from the text alone, it may be that the secondary level of the forms which form are discursive and the final or third level is a kind of intuitive grasping of the whole, perhaps as Spinoza speaks of it with his scientia intuitive. It is not, in other words, always clear that the division is between universal and particular, but perhaps beween different cognitions of the universal.

60 We ordinarily understand by “natural beauty” something that may be a bit different from Shaftesbury's understanding, but his view is more consistent with his belief in design: “He who truly studies nature and lives with nature, needs not either a garden, or wood, or sea, or rocks, to contemplate and admire. A dunghill or heap of any seeming vile and horrid matter is equal, nay superior, to any of those pretended orderly structures of things forced out of their natural state. He that sees not the beauty of corruption, can see nothing in generation and growth” (Regimen, 121–22).

61 “All Nature's wonders serve to excite and perfect this idea of their author. ‘Tis here he suffers us to see, and even converse with him in a manner suitable to our frailty. How glorious is it to contemplate him in this noblest of his works apparent to us, the system of the bigger world!” (Moralists, 112).

62 As Theocles puts it in The Moralists: “[T]he beautiful, the fair, the comely, were never in the matter, but in the art and design,… Tis mind alone that forms. All which is void of mind is horrid, and matter formless is deformity itself” (132).

63 See, e.g., Grean, , Shaftesbury's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, ch. 14; and Darwall, , The British Moralists, p. 182ff. One of the first modern commentators on Shaftesbury, Fowler, is particularly prone to this: cf. Fowler, Thomas, Shaftesbury and Hutcheson (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1883), p. 125ff.

64 Both quotations are from Darwall, , The British Moralists, p. 186.

65 “[I]f any being be wholly and really ill, it must be ill with respect to the universal system; and then the system of the universe is ill or imperfect. But if the ill of one private system be the good of others; if it makes still to the good the general system … then is the ill of that private system no real ill …” (Inquiry, 246ff.).

66 See also pp. 128, 138, and 143, for example.

67 Cf. Brett, , The Third Earl of Shaftesbury, ch. 6; and Grean, , Shaftesbury's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, ch. 14. Grean, for example, says (p. 255) that “in the true appreciation of the beautiful, our minds transcend all desire for the possession, use, or mastery of the object of our contemplation. In a striking passage he [Shaftesbury] wrote that to enjoy the beauty of the sea was decidedly different from attempting to control it.” Grean then presents the relevant passage from the Characteristics (Moralists, 126–27), as does Brett (The Third Earl of Shaftesbury, p. 139). It is important to recognize, however, that while such a mode of cognition might be disinterested or impartial, it is not necessarily impersonal or agent-neutral. The relevance of pointing this out should become clear as we proceed.

68 The highly universal and speculative elements of Theocles' position in The Moralists, and perhaps some aspects of the Inquiry as well, seem at times to go too far for Shaftesbury and seem to provide some evidence for my view that Shaftesbury cannot be simply equated with Theocles. In one letter, Shaftesbury says, for example, that “in philosophy … I am but few removes from mere scepticism” (Letter to Teresias, November 29, 1706, in Rand, , ed., Life and Letters, p. 367). In another letter, and in confirmation of my more agent-centered interpretation, Shaftesbury says that “the soul or genius itself (the true demon) committed to every man at his birth, was by the ancients esteemed sacred of itself…. [N]o man can justly, honestly, or truly pretend to prefer anything else on earth to this genius of his” (Letter to Pierre Coste, October 1, 1706, in ibid., p. 357).

69 This is not necessarily to claim that Shaftesbury was not sincere when he viewed things from the “god's eye” perspective, but only that we lose an important dimension of the argument when all is understood from that perspective. Darwall himself seems to point to the correct approach when he says that the “natural affections are identified by their being fitted to the good of all, rather than by whether their object is the public good” (Darwall, , The British Moralists, p. 184). In this connection also with respect to Adam Smith, see Griswold, Charles, “Adam Smith on Stoicism, Aesthetic Reconciliation,” Man and World, vol. 29, no. 2 (1996), pp. 187213.

70 Freedom, pp. 92–93.

71 Ibid., p. 93. This is a quotation from Horace.

72 Philosophical Regimen, p. 123. This is a citation on Shaftesbury's part from Plato's Phaedrus; it is cited again in the section on Beauty, p. 251.

73 I have cautioned before about making too much out of the Philosophical Regimen (or any particular text for that matter), but in this case the confirmations elsewhere allow me to point to this feature as confirmation of my thesis that beauty is primarily understood by Shaftesbury in terms of agent-centered virtue.

74 It is interesting to note that Plotinus says the following: “Newly awakened it [the Soul] is all too feeble to bear the ultimate splendor. Therefore the Soul must be trained — first, in all noble pursuits, then the works of beauty produced not by the labour of the arts but by the virtue of men known for their goodness: lastly, you must search the souls of those that have shaped these beautiful forms. But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful. … Therefore, first let each become godlike and each beautiful who cares to see God and Beauty” (Plotinus, The Enneads, Sixth Tractate, “Beauty,” 9, trans. Stephesn MacKenna [London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1969]). The reason I have cited Plotinus, apart from the intrinsic qualities of the passage, is to indicate a tradition, not to suggest a historical influence. I have no evidence that Shaftesbury was influenced by Plotinus.

75 In the Miscellaneous Reflections, Shaftesbury also says: “[T]hus every immorality and enormity of life can only happen from a partial and narrow view of happiness and good. Whatever takes from the largeness or freedom of thought must of necessity detract from that first relish or taste on which virtue and worth depend” (345). Artistic works were important for Shaftesbury with respect to that “first relish or taste” of virtue.

76 See, in this connection, Soliloquy, I, 2; and III, 1, 2.

77 See, later in the present section (IIIB), the passages from Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus on the waveless bay and the calm soul.

78 Summers, David, The Judgment of Sense (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 269ff.

79 Ibid., p. 274. Shaftesbury speaks of “the moral artist who can thus imitate the Creator, and is thus knowing in the inward form and structure of his fellow-creature …” (Soliloquy, 136). But it is not clear to me to what degree Shaftesbury would accept Aristotle's point about differentiating art from virtue — where, in the former, knowledge is enough, but in the latter, practice is necessary. That may depend on how Platonic one wishes to make Shaftesbury.

80 “[B]ut for the poet or genteel writer, who is of this world merely. … He must be perfect in this moral science” (MR, 332).

81 One finds little discussion of the issue in MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, for example. But Summers tells us: “[I]t is not clear that we are now so distant from the deepest expectations of art fashioned in the Renaissance, and it is perhaps to the notion of the responsibility of the artist for the work as the creator of the work, which was defined in the Renaissance, that we owe our own still passionately moral reactions to the experience of art” (Summers, , The Judgment of Sense, p. 275).

82 Todd Breyfogle has indicated to me a number of interesting references to my topic here (besides the Plotinus references found in notes 74 and 86). In the first place, “middle Platonist” thinkers such as Albinus and Aristides structure their works much like Shaftes-bury's philosophy. In the case of Aristides, the argument explicitly moves from aesthetics to ethics to philosophy. Secondly, there are numerous similarities between Augustine and Shaftesbury. Perhaps the most interesting is Augustine's account of the path of the soul to divine contemplation. Breyfogle breaks it out this way:

This hierarchy is interesting (1) because of the correlation of advancement of the soul with beauty, (2) because of the centrality of virtue (both theoretically and numerically), (3) because the centrality of virtue is characterized by the soul turning toward itself, and (4) because, on this view, art prepares the way for virtue by prompting reflection. So far as I know, Shaftesbury never refers to Augustine, but my point is about a tradition, not an individual influence.

83 Summers, , The Judgment of Sense, p. 329.

84 Ibid. In the Inquiry the passage is found on pp. 251–52.

85 See, for example, The Moralists, p. 106.

86 Consider, alternatively, these words from Plotinus: “Our interpretation is that the Soul—by the very truth of its nature, by its affiliation to the noblest Existents in the hierarchy of Being—when it sees anything of that kin, or any trace of that kinship, thrills with an immediate delight, takes its own to itself, and thus stirs anew to the sense of its nature and of all its affinity. … [P]erhaps the faculty acts immediately, affirming the Beautiful where it finds something accordant with the Ideal-Form within itself …” (Plotinus, The Enneads, Sixth Tractate, “Beauty,” 2 and 3; emphasis added).

87 Grean, , Shaftesbury's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, p. 254.

88 Summers, , The Judgment of Sense, p. 129.

89 Ibid., p. 207.

90 Taylor is most explicit about this connection (Sources of the Self, p. 255), Darwall the least (The British Moralists).

91 This is the Robertson (MR, 278) translation of the original (Aurelius, Marcus, Meditations, xii. 22) which was quoted in Greek. This passage is found in a footnote, perhaps indicating again that the essence of Shaftesbury is not always what is most visible. The Penguin translation (Meditations, trans. Maxwell Staniforth [Baltimore: Penguin, 1964]) is: “Everything is what your opinion makes it; and that opinion lies with yourself. Renounce it when you will, and at once you have rounded the foreland and all is calm; a tranquil sea, a tideless haven.” The Loeb (C. R. Heines) translation is similar. This passage could easily be coupled with another one where Marcus Aurelius tells us to “look at the inmost causes of things, stripped of their husks; note the intentions that underlie actions; [etc.] …” (Meditations, xii. 8).

92 The quote is from Epictetus, Discourses, iii, 3.

93 Darwall, , The British Moralists, p. 203; the pages that follow are relevant as well.

94 Ibid., p. 205.

95 And if the Kantian paradigm implies a split between the good and the right, so much the further is it from Shaftesbury.

96 I noted in the introduction that Shaftesbury's grandfather, the First Earl, was, along with his secretary John Locke, virtually a founder of Whig politics. Any secondary account of Shaftesbury will, to varying degrees, detail the Third Earl's pedigree in these matters. Although I disagree with some of its orientation, perhaps the best recent account of Shaftesbury's political thinking is to be found in Klein, Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, Part II, “Polite Whiggism.”

97 Constant, Benjamin, “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with That of the Moderns,” in Benjamin Constant, Political Writings, ed. and trans. Fontana, Biancamaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 309ff.

98 Klein, , Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, p. 126. See the entire first chapter of Part II.

99 Later in ibid., Klein notes that “one cannot help but regard Shaftesbury's concern with discursive and cultural liberty as a significant shift of emphasis, one that distanced liberty from its specifically civic setting” (p. 198).

100 Letter to Teresias, , 11 29, 1706, in Rand, , ed., Life and Letters, p. 367. This passage is also cited above (in note 68) to make a different sort of point.

101 Miller, Fred D. Jr., Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle's “Politics” (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

102 For differences and continuities, see Burrow, J. W., Whigs and Liberals: Continuity and Change in English Political Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988). Burrow points out (p. 2ff.) that if liberal individualism is the model and this model holds that “the ultimate units of its analytic scheme are autonomous individuals, rationally seeking the satisfaction of given wants” and that “order is present in human society not in the realm of ends, where we are competitors for satisfactions which are both essentially private in their enjoyment and scarce relative to the demand for them, but only in the rationality of our choice of means,” then Whiggism is different from liberalism. Certainly, the foregoing description would not apply to Shaftesbury.

103 See for example, Klein's discussion (Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, p. 126ff.) of the differences between “Country” Whigs and the other forms of Whig thought as they apply to Shaftesbury.

104 Ibid., p. 125.

105 It might be argued that this just is a political, specifically Whiggish, program. One can, of course, understand by “political” something very broad or narrow. My point here, then, is to suggest the possibility that not everything is encompassed by the political and to further distinguish the cultural from the political. The argument that the anti-political is itself a form of politics may have a certain degree of postmodern fashionability, but it seems to remove much of what is the essence of a quite separate position, however much that position must be at least partly advocated in the political arena itself.

106 Letter to Somers, Lord, 10 20, 1705, in Rand, , ed., Life and Letters, p. 339.

107 In chapters 8 and 9 of Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, Klein offers an excellent discussion of Shaftesbury's views of both the church and the court.

108 “Persuasion must have been in a manner the mother of poetry, rhetoric, music, and the other kindred arts. For ‘tis apparent that where chief men and leaders had the strongest interest to persuade, they used the highest endeavors to please” (Soliloquy, 154).

109 Shaftesbury also says: “[B]ut by freedom of conversation this illiberal kind of wit will lose its credit. For wit is its own remedy. Liberty and commerce bring it to its true standard. The only danger is, the laying an embargo. The same thing happens here, as in the case of trade. Impositions and restrictions reduce it to a low ebb. Nothing is so advantageous to it as a free port” (Freedom, 45–46).

110 More is said on this below, but this passage is a further indication of the point: “[N]either the written treatises of the learned, nor the set discourses of the eloquent, are able of themselves to teach the use of it. ‘Tis the habit alone of reasoning which can make a reasoner. … A freedom of raillery, a liberty in decent language to question everything, and an allowance of unravelling or refuting any argument, without offence to the arguer, are the only terms which can render such speculative conversations any way agreeable” (Freedom, 49).

111 This may be too strong. Shaftesbury tends to see the artist as a craftsman in need of guidance by a philosopher. Cf. Wind, “Shaftesbury as a Patron of Art” (supra note 33), p. 185.

112 Shaftesbury says that “when we had once looked into ourselves, and distinguished well the nature of our own affections, we should probably be fitter judges of the divineness of a character, and discern better what affections were suitable or unsuitable to a perfect being. We might then understand how to love and praise, when we had acquired some consistent notion of what was laudable or lovely” (Enthusiasm, 29–30). One would expect, then, if the “democratic” soul were to dominate or self-reflection were to disappear that beauty would be relativized.

113 See, for example, the discussion in Miscellaneous Reflections from p. 324ff.; see also the Soliloquy from p. 150ff.

114 A phrase taken from the Soliloquy, p. 168.

115 This approach seems to run contrary to our ordinary, perhaps romantic, notions of starting with an internal inspiration for the sake of an outward expression of beauty as the final product. That outward expression may inspire others, but not so as to produce the beautiful soul, but rather to produce another inspired object.

116 Klein, , Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, p. 211.

117 Not only is there little sense of this in Shaftesbury, but his writings are relatively free of the sorts of concepts that underlie the contemporary ethical language of narratives, social roles, or social functions. It is not that such things do not exist, but a central aspect of Shaftesbury's conception of virtue is precisely what he says about the regressive character of imitation in art. It is not conformity, but rather independence—what the ancients might have called self-sufficiency—that Shaftesbury admires most.

118 The critique as we have it is, however, in the form of student notes.

119 Smith, Adam, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. Macfie, A. L. and Raphael, D. D. (Indianapolis, IN: LibertyClassics, 1982), II.iii.13.

120 Ibid., Part IV, is most significant here, but the conclusion I have stated actually has to be argued for, since it is not stated in this form by Smith. For the fullest argument on this matter of which I am aware, see Griswold, Charles, Adam Smith and the Virtues of Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 1998).

121 Smith, , Theory of Moral Sentiments, II.iii.3.1.

122 Ibid.

123 In this connection, see Smith's discussion of why wealth is better than virtue for electing leaders (Theory of Moral Sentiments, VI.iii.30). Notice how much like the Shaftesbury of the Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit it is to say that what appears to be an evil is really for the overall good.

124 There is one level, of course, where the good and the beautiful come together, and that is where the social good also has a harmony or beauty to it. If Smith could only get rid of philosophy, the two could be identified, but he cannot.

125 Smith, , Theory of Moral Sentiments, VI.ii.3.6.

* I wish to thank Evanthia Speliotis, Peter Vedder, Douglas Rasmussen, and Emilio Pacheco for help on this essay. I am especially grateful to Todd Breyfogle for his comments on the section on beauty; I was only able to convey the surface of his many insights. Charles Griswold must also be cited for very special thanks, for he commented on, and we dialogued about, every section of this essay. Ellen Frankel Paul's criticisms of late drafts of this essay were also invaluable in correcting errors of both a substantive and minor nature. I also wish to thank Liberty Fund, Inc., of Indianapolis for providing me with the leisure to work on this essay.

Shaftesbury and the Modern Problem of Virtue*

  • Douglas J. Den Uyl (a1)


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