Ductor Dubitantium; or, the Rule of Conscience (by Jeremy Taylor)
Part 1: April 25, 1868
Hardly any subject is so curious in itself, or has fallen so much into neglect, as what Roman Catholics call moral theology, which in our own time and country is better known by the highly unpopular title of casuistry. The reason why this subject has fallen into so much neglect in Protestant communities in general, and in England at least as much as elsewhere, is obvious enough.
Casuistry is the indispensable complement to the practice of confession, and when the tribunal by which the law is administered is closed it is but natural that the law itself should fall into oblivion. There can, however, we think, be very little doubt that, of the many forgotten departments of learning which contain curious matter of different kinds, few would give so rich a return, to the labour of any one adventurous enough to explore it, as the subject of casuistry.
We do not believe, for instance, that it will ever be possible to understand and appreciate the true character of some of the most characteristic doctrines of the Reformation without a better knowledge of the general bearings of casuistry than almost any one in the present day possesses.
It is highly probable, for instance, that if the various controversies about justification by faith, faith and works, and other such topics, were ever to be translated out of the scholastic dialect into modern forms of speech, it would be found that the existence of casuistry, the conception of a legal measure to which all human actions could be reduced, and of a spiritual tribunal established for the purpose of sitting in judgment upon every part of the conduct of all classes of human beings, had a great deal to do with the interest which the subject excited.
A theory which enabled men to dispense altogether with such a tribunal, and which was founded upon, and to a great extent identified with, the sentiment which in our own days would regard it as fundamentally immoral, would have immense attractions for a very large part of mankind. Whether the doctrine of justification by faith had anything—and if so, how much—to do with this sentiment, is a question on which we do not profess to offer anything more than a suggestion, which it may possibly be worth the while of those who have special knowledge of the question to consider.
Whatever may have been the general bearings and connections of the subject, it is an indisputable truth that systematic treatises on morality, regarded from the theological point of view, were—in Protestant countries, and especially in our own—rare, in the age which immediately followed the Reformation.
Taylor himself says (xi. 346), ‘For any public provisions of books of casuistical theology we were almost wholly unprovided, and like the children of Israel in the days of Saul and Jonathan, we were forced to go down to the forges of the Philistines to sharpen every man his share and his coulter, his axe and his mattock.'
He proceeds, after some severe criticism of the Romish casuists, to describe the character of his own book, which he regards (xi. 656) as 'an institution of moral theology,' a treatise, not intended to be used as a digest or 'exhaustive body of particular cases of conscience' (xi. 363), but as a statement of the theory of the whole subject. As to particular cases, he says, 'I find that they are infinite, and my life is not so. ... I therefore resolved upon another way which, although no man before me hath had in writing cases of conscience, yet I cannot say it is new, for I took my pattern out of Tribonianus the lawyer, who, out of the laws of the old Romans, collected some choice rules, which give answer to very many cases that happen.'
His book may thus be regarded as an attempt, by a man of genius and of marvellous learning and industry, to extract from boundless heaps of material, not by any means unlike the contents of a library full of law reports, though arranged in a very different manner, the theory of the whole subject of casuistry.
He has not, however, confined himself by any means to the casuists. On the contrary, his book is filled with references to nearly every department of literature, for, to say nothing of the pleasure which he naturally took in the employment, not to say the display, of his wonderful learning upon all subjects, he obviously shared in the feeling which acted so strongly upon Grotius (to take a very prominent example), that it was desirable in all such inquiries, to confirm the results of abstract speculation by a continual appeal to the habitual sentiments of mankind, as displayed by the language of writers who might be supposed, from their popularity, to be specially well fitted to express them.
The general result is extremely curious. The Ductor Dubitantium is spread over four volumes of Bishop Heber's edition of Taylor's works, and fills 1707 very full octavo pages. It is by no means easy reading, nor can we honestly say that it repays the labour of being read straight through, still a good deal is to be learnt from that process, both as to the character of Taylor's own mind, and as to the nature of a system which for centuries exercised so vast an influence over human conduct, and which, to this very day, retains its power in many parts of the world, and over large and important classes, in a form which, if it differs to some extent from that under which Taylor knew it, still closely resembles it.
As to the light thrown by the Ductor Dubitantium upon the mind of its author, it illustrates his intellect to perfection, though it affords comparatively little scope for the employment of the eloquence which was his most popular, and perhaps his most characteristic gift. He was a man of what, in these days, looks like incredible learning. He had very great ingenuity, and, as far as he went, remarkable independence of mind; but his independence was by no means thoroughgoing, and his ingenuity never went to the foundations of things. He was a great philosopher according to the notions of philosophy which were becoming old-fashioned even in his day, but he had not the remotest notion of what we in these days understand by philosophy. He does not even appear to have understood the existence of such questions as Hobbes, for instance, passed his life in debating.
But the best way of illustrating this will be to give some account of the contents of his book. Its length, and the peculiarity of its contents, make this a matter of some difficulty; but we propose on the present occasion to attempt to give some account of the elements into which Taylor's speculations may be resolved, and of the method on which they are conducted, reserving for a future occasion the task of attempting to translate into its modern equivalents his general theory of morality.
The book may be reduced to three principal elements. It is founded upon what, for want of a better name, must be called the scholastic or Aristotelian philosophy, as understood by writers of that age, and on this there is built a superstructure composed, in nearly equal proportions, of theological and legal authorities, the legal authorities being almost exclusively drawn from the civil law.
It is remarkable that of English law Taylor knew hardly anything. He refers to it very seldom, and when he does, not very correctly. But he quotes civil lawyers on all occasions, and with an odd tacit assumption, that the rules which they lay down, have about them some peculiarly fixed quality differing from the theories of more modern writers. He thus brings out at last a very odd result. His system is positive and precise enough, and is as coherent as any other; but it is impossible to say what it is worth. It neither enables us to affirm that a given act has a tendency to produce happiness, nor that it is agreeable to the civil law, nor that it is approved of by the canonists. It shows, in a word, nothing except the places of actions in a complicated and arbitrary system, compounded by Taylor himself out of these and some other authorities. To give an idea of the result, we will take separately some illustrations of the place occupied in his system by each of the three elements in question.
The first element to be examined is the scholastic philosophy by which every part of the book is pervaded, and from which, indeed, its whole method is derived. Every part of the book supplies illustrations of this, but perhaps as remarkable a one as any, is to be found in the distribution of the subject given (oddly enough) at the beginning of the fourth and last book. 'He that intends to consider anything fully and entirely, must consider it in all the four kinds of causes;' and he then points out that he has considered 'the formal cause, or essentiality, of good and evil;' which is, 'the doing it with or against conscience.' The 'material cause' . . . 'which is the laws of God and man, by a conformity to which the action is good, and if it disagrees materially, evil;' and lastly he comes to the efficient 'and final causes' of all human actions. The will is the efficient cause. What we should call motive appears to be what Taylor calls the final cause; though, as we shall have occasion to observe hereafter, he explains himself on this head very obscurely.
This unnatural arrangement has the effect (for one thing) of throwing extreme obscurity over the whole book. It is studded throughout with distinctions about matter and form, and with phraseology which, in these days, hardly any one can understand. Take the following as specimens:—
'The external act is the occasion of the intending or extending the internal, but directly and of itself increases not the goodness or the badness of it. For the external is not properly and formally good or bad, but only objectively and materially; just as a wall cannot increase the whiteness unless the quality itself be intended by its own principle (xiv. 349). . . . For although in nature and logic time consignifies— that is, it does the work of accidents, and appendages, and circumstances, yet in theology it signifies and effects too; time may signify a substantial duty, and effect a material pardon (xiii. 189). . . . There is a double consent to a proposition; the one is direct, the other a reflex; the first is directly terminated upon the honesty or dishonesty of the object, the other upon the manner of it, and modality.'Which, as appears from the context, is a way of saying that we sometimes have to act for the best without being sure of our facts. The point at issue is whether a priest was right in giving absolution upon evidence of repentance, supposed by some theologians to be sufficient, though his own view was that it was ambiguous, the penitent being at the point of death and unable to clear the matter up further.
It is generally possible to make out from the context what Taylor's meaning in such passages as these really was, and the question is rather one of expression than of substance; but his philosophy was as scholastic as his phraseology and this circumstance throws the greatest obscurity and confusion over large parts of his work. He appears to have been altogether unaware of the importance of having single and distinct meanings for fundamental terms, and the consequence is, that he uses them in a great variety of senses, meaning by the same word the most different things at different times.
He has no clear notion of the human mind and its various faculties, and of their relation to each other. Great part, perhaps the greater part, of his language about the will and the conscience assumes that they are separate independent beings between whom definite relations exist. Take the following accounts of the will: 'The will is the mistress of all our actions, of all but such as are necessary and natural, and therefore to her it is to be imputed whatsoever be done' (xiv. 278); 'all other faculties are natural and necessary and obedient, this only is the empress, and is free, and mistress of the action' (ib. 285). So we are told elsewhere that 'the will may choose a less good and reject the greater' (xii. 75), and that it may cause the understanding 'to apply a general proposition to a particular case' (xii. 81) without proper grounds.
The language of which these expressions are a specimen, implies that will has a special independent existence of its own, that it is, so to speak, a subordinate man who governs the conduct of the whole of which he forms a part.
It is still worse with respect to conscience. The first words of the book (xi. 369) define conscience thus: 'Conscience is the mind of a man governed by a rule and measured by the proportions of good and evil, in order to practice—namely, to conduct all our relations and all our intercourse between God, our neighbours, and ourselves; that is in all moral actions.' The meaning of a mind governed by a rule and measured by proportions is not in itself by any means clear, but the explanation makes it ten times darker.
The greater part of the first book is a curious mixture of rhetoric and scholastic logic, from which we learn that 'conscience is in God's stead to give us laws' (370); that it is God's 'vicegerent and subordinate' (xii. 18); that it is sometimes taken for 'the practical intellectual faculty,' sometimes for 'the habitual persuasion and belief of the principles written there,' and sometimes for 'any single operation and action of conscience' (372). That it is 'a conjunction of the universal practical law with the particular moral action' (382)—a definition (it is quoted by Taylor from Thomas Aquinas) which appears to treat conscience as the result of a logical process. This is explained to mean, in the next page, that conscience is a 'complication of acts'—the act, namely, of saying murder is wrong, and the act of affirming that to kill Uriah is murder. We afterwards (387) learn that 'the duties and offices of conscience are to dictate, and to testify or bear witness, to accuse or excuse, to loose or bind.' These phrases are rendered still more perplexing by the elaborate discussion which follows them, on the right or sure conscience, the erroneous conscience, the probable or thinking conscience, the doubtful conscience, and the scrupulous conscience.
We can discuss without much difficulty, or at least without much fear of being misunderstood, the cases of men who rightly believe given actions to be right, who wrongly believe given actions to be right, who doubt but decide to act upon one of the possible suppositions, who doubt without deciding, and who are too prone to doubt; but the whole subject is greatly perplexed by the introduction of a supposed entity called conscience, which is regarded as right, as confidently erroneous, as doubtful, or as scrupulous. This imperfect philosophical basis, and the awkward phraseology which is so closely connected with it, greatly diminish the value of Taylor's book to all modern readers, and make a large proportion of his discussions appear irrelevant or unintelligible.
Apart from this Taylor's book furnishes a good illustration of the endless perplexities which arise in practice from that form of the doctrine of innate ideas which was generally accepted in his time, and against which in the next generation Locke directed his vigorous attacks. The following passages are very distinct enunciations of this theory:—
'For those things which are first inspirated, which are universal principles, which are consented to by all men without a teacher, those which Aristotle calls κοινάς έννοίας, those are always the last removed, etc. (xi. 417). . . . Our reason or understanding apprehends things three several ways; the first is called νόησις, or the "first notices" of things abstract and the primo intelligibilia such as are. The whole is greater than the half of the whole—good is to be chosen, God is to be loved. Nothing can be and not be at the same time, for these are objects of the simple understanding, congenite notices, encreated with the understanding' (xi. 440).This crude and clumsy theory pervades the whole of the book. It assumes throughout that we have within us a sort of unwritten dictionary which enables us, by turning, for instance, to such a word as 'just' or 'justice,' to ascertain at once whether a given thing is just or not. It would be hard to suggest a better test, by which to ascertain whether or not a given writer is really philosophical, than that of considering whether he appreciates the importance of assigning precise meanings to common words, like 'just,' 'law,' 'right,' and 'wrong.' If not, whatever else he is, he is no philosopher.
The second of the elements of which Taylor's book is composed is the Canon Law, and the works of the casuists. He uses them in a very remarkable way. He clearly sees, on the one hand, that they were not laws properly so called in England; but, on the other hand, he entertains for them a sort of respect by no means unlike that which an English lawyer would feel for the American Law Reports.
The way in which he quotes them introduces his reader almost into a new world, and carries him back to a time when a state of things existed of which we see at present only the vestiges. They one and all imply the existence of an ecclesiastical measure of right and wrong, enforced upon individuals by the unrestrained use of the spiritual sanction, and modifying in the most curious way every one of the relations of life. Moral theology, as understood by the authors whom Taylor so freely quotes, can have been nothing less than a universal ethical system claiming to regulate all human conduct, and in so far as it prevailed constituting its authorised interpreters the moral sovereigns of the human race. Taylor appears to have accepted this system to a certain extent as a branch of that common law of the Christian Church to which, like his master Laud, he attached so much importance.
As instances of the immense importance of such a system, we may observe that such questions as the degree of moral authority belonging to the civil magistrate, the moral weight to be attached to human laws, and the right in particular cases to evade them, are all treated under this system as theological questions. Everything which relates to marriage in particular is treated in this way. Taylor, for instance, supposed that it was possible to say what was, and what not, a valid marriage by the law of nature apart from all positive human laws whatever, and to determine with exact precision all the moral duties arising out of such a conclusion.
Nothing can have a more singular effect upon a modern reader than the strange cross between law and morals thus produced. The sanctions of the rules are moral and religious, but the rules themselves have often all the harshness and disregard of special results, which could be found in the most technical system of law.
A single instance will illustrate this: 'Francisco Biretti, a Venetian gentleman, full of amours’... 'courts Julia, a senator's daughter, but with secret intent to abuse her, and so to leave her.' Julia's father forces her to consent to a contract with Biretti, who, still retaining his original intention, makes the contract, and takes advantage of it to seduce Julia. The law declares this to be a marriage, but Biretti marries another woman in the meantime, and Taylor says that the second marriage was good in conscience, although the law held the first transaction to be a marriage. 'Now the law presumes that after contract their congress did declare a marriage, for it supposes and presumes a consent, and yet without says if there was no consent there was no marriage.' Biretti knew that there was no consent, as his intention was seduction, and not marriage. He knew, therefore, that the presumption upon which the law proceeded to declare him to be Julia's husband was false in fact, therefore he is 'relieved in conscience' though 'condemned by the presumption.' The law did well to declare in favour of Julia, 'but Francisco, who knew that which the law could not know' (namely, the state of his own mind), 'was bound to make amends to Julia as well as he could, but to pursue the marriage with Antonia, and to dwell with her' (xiii. 283, 284). It would be difficult to give a better instance of the strange confusions into which casuists fell when they tried to solve absolutely every conceivable moral problem by putting together moral obligations, technical rules of evidence, and arbitrary matters as to the essence of marriage, which rest upon no other than a purely fanciful basis.
The last element worth noticing in the composition of Taylor's book is the purely legal one. He apparently knew little of English law, and cared less for it. He hardly ever refers to it except to quote the rule of the common law as to the effect of coercion by a husband in crimes committed by married women; and to sanction the vulgar error that 'a butcher is made incapable of being at the inquest of life and death' (xiii. 349). His deficiencies in this respect, however, are compensated by a positive passion for civil law. He regards it on every occasion in the light of a science, having an independent existence of its own hardly capable of being varied, and constituting a sort of philosophy of human actions from which no appeal can be admitted. It would be easy to fill any number of pages with illustrations of this; indeed, a great part of the book might be transcribed in illustration of it.
We must content ourselves with one or two. In discussing the question of the relation of the spiritual and temporal powers, Taylor says 'and here comes in that rule of the law "the accessory follows the nature of the principal" which hath been so infinitely mistaken and abused by the pretences of Romanists and Presbytery, for the establishing an empire ecclesiastical in things belonging to themselves, not to God.'
The soul was regarded as the principal, the body as the accessory, whence, of course, it followed that the temporal power was subservient to the spiritual. In order to meet this Taylor goes into a lengthy disquisition about the meaning of the rule, which he ascertains by introducing what amount really to nothing more than a variety of illustrations of the fact, that there are different senses in which the words principal and accessory may be used, and that some of these do, while others do not, apply to the case of the soul and the body. Many of these senses are mere arbitrary technicalities of the Roman lawyers. Taylor, for instance, says, 'A jewel set in gold is much better than the gold, but yet the gold is the principal, because it' (i.e. the jewel) 'was put there to illustrate and adorn the gold, according to that of Ulpian,' etc. (xiii. 573, 574). Another good illustration of the same thing occurs in the manner in which Taylor treats the whole question of the mutual rights and duties of parents and children (xiv. 182-199).
These are the three chief elements out of which the elaborate system of morals which fills the Ductor Dubitantium is made up.
Part 2: June 6, 1868
Having given some account of the different elements of which Taylor's great work on casuistry is composed, we propose, on the present occasion, to attempt to draw an outline of its contents, and to show its relation to subsequent and contemporary moral speculations.
The Ductor Dubitantium is divided into four books, which treat respectively of Conscience, its different kinds, and the general rules for conducting it; of the Law of Nature in general, and particularly as it is commanded and digested by Christ, and of the manner in which it is to be interpreted; of Human Laws, civil and ecclesiastical, and of the degree of obligation which they impose upon the conscience; and, lastly, of the Nature of Good and Evil, and of Human Actions, and their efficient and final causes.
For reasons referred to in our former article, we will begin with the Fourth Book. Its subject is, 'The Nature and Causes of Good and Evil, their limits and circumstances, their aggravations and diminutions,' or, which Taylor regards as being the same thing, 'the efficient and the final causes of all human actions.' The efficient cause of human actions is the will—'the mistress of all our actions.' The will is free, and this liberty, 'agreeable to the whole method and purpose, the economy and design of human nature and being' (xiv. 281), is an imperfection.
In the whole book there is no more characteristic passage than the one in which this is explained. It is too long to quote, and in parts very eloquent; but the point of it is that our liberty is imperfect, and that liberty itself is an imperfection arising from the mixture of good and evil in ourselves and in the constitution of the world. The reason of this is shortly expressed as follows:—
'If we understood all the degrees of amability in the service of God, and if we could love God as he deserves ... we should have no liberty left, nothing concerning which we could deliberate. . . . The saints and angels in Heaven, and God himself, love good and cannot choose evil, because to do so were imperfection and infelicity, and the devils and accursed souls hate all good without liberty and indifferency, but between these is the state of man in the days of his pilgrimage.'
He also says, 'In moral and spiritual things liberty and indetermination are weakness, and suppose a great infirmity of our reason and a great want of love.' In this theory Taylor, in effect, concedes all that a believer in the modern doctrine of philosophical necessity would contend for—namely, that what is commonly described as the consciousness of liberty, is nothing but the condition of a man who does not know his own mind. 'Liberty of will,' says Taylor, 'is like the motion of a magnetic needle towards the North, full of trembling and uncertainty, till it be fixed in the beloved point; it wavers as long as it is free, and is at rest when it can choose no more' (xiv. 286). Freedom, according to this, is only the sense of uncertainty of which we are conscious whilst we are employed in weighing motives.
There are, however, abundant indications in other parts of the chapter that Taylor did not perceive the full force of the line of thought towards which his rhetoric pointed; but it is needless to insist upon this. He goes on to point out (what no doubt is true) that voluntary actions only are moral, and he then proceeds to the question whether any voluntary acts can be indifferent (291, 292), and decides it in the negative; an idle word is a sin because it is idle, and conversely men are bound (Question ii. 297-305) to live in a manner 'fitted to the general design of a Christian's life,' and to adapt all their conduct to that end, so that every action of their lives may be in some degree actively good.
Next, he considers how the will may act, in respect of the immediate or remote character of its connection with its acts; and this involves him in most singular questions about ratification (305-309), 'a distinction known in the civil law between "mandatum" and "jussio"' (310), (instigation by an equal and the command of a superior) and the question how far silence gives consent (315-318), and whether in any case it is lawful to permit sin; as, for instance, when 'Pancirone, an Italian gentleman,' gave a German ambassador liquor enough to get drunk 'after his country fashion' (319).
He also discusses the question of the moral guilt of accessories and principals in the second degree, the question how far it is lawful to 'make or provide the instruments which usually minister to sin.' Acts, he says, 'which minister only to vanity and trifling pleasures are of ill fame.' A Christian is bound to do something profitable to the commonwealth and acceptable to God; but Taylor will not go so far as to say that a man who lives by juggling is to be 'directly condemned for this, and said to be in a state of damnation.' Still, 'if he comes near a spiritual guide,' he is 'to be called off from that which at the best is good for nothing' (325).
Card-making and dice-making he regards as lawful (324), because in certain cases (327-333) and subject to rules (333-344) it is lawful to play at cards and dice. In the course of his disquisition upon this point a curious passage occurs which illustrates the state of knowledge of the time, and in particular the total absence in Taylor's mind of any just notions of chance or probability:—
'In these cases, I have heard from them that have skill in such things, there are such strange chances, such promoting of a hand by fancy and little arts of geomancy, such constant winning on one side, such unreasonable losses on the other, and these strange contingencies produce such horrible effects that it is not improbable that God hath permitted the conduct of such games of chance to the Devil, who will order them to where he can do the most mischief' (337).
From the question of principal and agent, Taylor passes to the question of intention, and of the degree of moral guilt which may be involved in it. There are six steps in the 'production of a sin' (344)— 1, The inclination of the will; 2, The will arresting itself upon the tempting object; 3, The will being pleased with the thought of it; 4, Desiring to do it, but 'not clearly and distinctly, but upon certain conditions, if it were lawful,' etc.; 5, Desire to do it unconditionally; and, 6, Execution.
Having described these stages of guilt with much sagacity and ingenuity, he proceeds, by the help of odd scholastic phraseology about formal and material guilt (348-356), to consider how many sins are involved in the various mental stages through which guilt passes.
He gets here into the most singular refinements. 'If the course of the outward act' is interrupted and resumed, there is more than one sin or virtuous act. A man who brings up an orphan 'does often sleep and often not think of it, and hath many occasions to renew his resolution.' If he delights in it, and chooses toties quoties, he does so many distinct acts of charity. But each intention must produce some effect. 'Titius intends to give Caius a new gown at the calends,' but forgets. His first intention is thrown away; and if, upon a new intention, he does give him a gown at the calends, he is credited with only one act of charity, not two:—
'If a man against his will nod at his prayers, and awakening himself by his nodding, proceed in his devotion, he does not pray more than once, because the first intention is sufficient to point his prayer. But if he falls asleep overnight, and sleeps till morning, his morning prayer is upon a new account, and the will must renew her act, or there is nothing done.'This is a good illustration of the absurd consequences which flow from the view which Taylor always takes of the will, as being a sort of subordinate man. It is followed by an inquiry into the cases in which an involuntary effect, proceeding from a voluntary cause, is imputed to the agent (356-367). By this Taylor means the case of a man who gets drunk, in order that when drunk he may sin without restraint, in which case he says the sin consequent on the drunkenness, as well as the drunkenness itself, is imputed. But it is otherwise if the consequence was not foreseen or designed, in which case the consequences of drunkenness have their moral effect as aggravations of the drunkenness, not as substantive offences (380-386); and so as to other cases of negligence.
This second part of the rule forms part of an inquiry into the effects of ignorance upon guilt. In relation to this matter, Taylor handles incidentally, as is his manner, very large questions. He begins by asking of what men may lawfully be ignorant (364). No man, he says, can be 'innocently ignorant of that which all the nations of the world have ever believed and publicly professed, as that there is a God—that God is good, and just, and true; that he is to be worshipped; that we must do no more wrong than we are willing to suffer,' etc. No Christian can be innocently ignorant of that which the Catholic Church teaches, but upon points on which Christians differ 'a man may innocently be ignorant' (365).
This gives a wonderfully wide license in such matters. He distinguishes ignorance as being invincible, probable (368), and vincible (372), and dwells at length upon the effect of infancy, in relation to which he makes a characteristic remark. We cannot tell exactly when children become responsible for their sins. Probably they are not punished so severely as men. 'When God does not impute their follies to damnation, it may be he will impute them so far as to cause a sickness or an immature and hasty death' (377).
One Anastasius Sinaita appears to have been better informed. He says, according to Taylor, 'Sometimes God imputes sins to boys from twelve years old and upwards.' He does not mention girls.
From the case of ignorance Taylor passes to that of fear and violence, and their effects upon contracts and other actions, as to which he says very little, at considerable length (389-398). The most characteristic of his doctrines is that a promise to a thief or bandit should be kept, 'because, he being an outlaw and rebel against all civil laws, and in a state of war, whatever you promise to him you are to understand according to that law under which then you are, which is the law of nature and force together.'
The rest of the fourth part of the book consists of an inquiry (398-414) into the final cause of human actions, the summum bonum or ideal by which all human conduct ought to be regulated, which, he says, is the glory of God. It is not, however, unlawful to add to this master motive 'temporal regards for ends of profit, pleasure, or honour,' though they must be kept in the second place. However, the love of God itself is not absolutely disinterested. 'There was no love of God ever so abstracted by any command or expressed intention of God as to lay aside all intuition of that reward' (411). This is a good instance of the spiritual and intellectual see-saw between various points of view which is one of Taylor's great characteristics.
Upon this part of the work we may observe in general that it is obscured and falsified throughout by a complete absence of true philosophy or real knowledge of the constitution of man, and that it is in fact nothing more or less than an elaborate attempt to apply legal conceptions to a subject-matter to which they have a very distant relation. Under Taylor's circumstances this was inevitable. The problem continually before him is, under what conditions will God punish men for sins of thought or act? and his constant tacit assumption is, that God will follow, at all events to a great extent, the principles of the civil law.
Nothing is more remarkable than the almost idolatrous admiration with which the leading writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries regarded law, or than the manner in which they overlooked the defects inherent in all law, especially the great leading defect, that it involves the necessity of deciding for practical purposes what are in reality indeterminate and indeterminable problems. This is closely connected with the notion of innate ideas which Taylor held so strongly, and which was universal in his time. If you believe that a maxim like ' Contracts must be kept' is a first truth by which particular cases may be decided, you run of course into argumentations like the one quoted above about the robber. It is not till you have learnt that the general rule is only a summary mode of expression, generalised from a number of particular cases, that you can see that it throws no light upon cases which were not taken into account when it was formed, and that their solution must depend upon different principles.
Such is Taylor's view of the questions which lie at the root of ethics. We now pass to the body of his system. The First Book (xi. 369; xii. 190) is entitled 'Of Conscience, the Kinds of it and the General Rules of conducting them.' It treats successively of the rule of conscience in general (x. 369-427), of the right or sure conscience (xi. 427-511), the confident or erroneous conscience (xii. 1-31), the probable or thinking conscience (xii. 31-118), the doubtful conscience (xii. 118-172), and the scrupulous conscience (xii. 172-190). It is a most tedious inquiry, eloquent in the wrong places, abounding in distinctions which are of no real use, and above all, founded on no clear perception of the difficulties or nature of the questions to be discussed.
We have already referred to the definition of conscience, to the way in which it is personified, and to the different senses in which the word is used; but the observation may be extended to other faculties. Man, in Taylor's philosophy, is a being full of little men, named Will, Conscience, Reason, etc., each of whom has his own peculiar province and powers. It is obvious that any quantity of ingenuity can be displayed in settling the precedence between imaginary persons by the rules of the civil law, and in illustrating it by cases handled by casuists.
Simplifying the matter as far as possible, and translating Taylor into modern language, the substance of what he says appears to be as follows: As to conscience in general it is a fact that men judge of the moral character of their own and other people's actions, and have in their own minds rules by which they form those judgments. These rules are, in some sense or other, the voice of God to the soul, even when they are wrong. If the judgments founded on them correspond with 'the law of God or God's will signified to us by nature or revelation' (381), and known by various names, such as 'the law of nature, the consent of nations, right reason, the Decalogue, the Sermon of Christ, the canons of the apostles, the laws, ecclesiastical and civil, of princes and governors,' they are right. If not, they are wrong. In any event they regulate our conduct and influence our feelings, and so impose the powerful sanction of selfapproval or self-condemnation upon every action of our lives.
These judgments form a 'right and true conscience' when they are right, and are known to be so; and they may be known to be right by reason, the operation of which is by three steps (439 seq.) In the first place, we have '"first notices" of things abstract, of principles, and the primo intelligibilia.' Next we have '"discourse," that is, such consequents and emanations which the understanding draws from the first principles.' Lastly, we have faith, which is the assent of the understanding to evidence.
In a word, conscience is our opinion of our own conduct, which is to be regulated by reason from which faith is derived. This is pure rationalism, but Taylor (more suo) narrows it by saying that, as geometrical propositions are not proved by moral philosophy, so revelation is not proved by a natural argument, but by 'principles proper to the inquisition.' What those principles are, or where or how they are to be got, he does not say.
This rationalism with stones in its shoes (442-449), weak for purposes of affirmation, strong for purposes of denial, is pre-eminently characteristic of Taylor, but he contrives, by a series of devices, and more or less adroit beggings of the question, to assign their usual provinces to faith and reason on grounds about as plausible as usual. Reason, however, gets a considerably larger share than is allowed to it by many writers.
A great deal of curious disputation follows as to the effect of knowing that a given thing is right. Two of the most characteristic arguments may be shortly referred to: (First), May you promote a true opinion by bad reasons? Is it lawful ‘for a good end for preachers to affright men with panic terrors, and to create fears that have no ground; as to tell them if they be liars their faces will be deformed'? etc. (489). Answer: 'A preacher or governor may affright those that are under him, and deter them from sin, by threatening them with anything that may probably happen.' For instance, he may tell sacrilegious people that it is probable they will die childless, or 'be afflicted with the gout,' or 'have an ambulatory life,' etc.; but he must not threaten a judgment which implies a miracle, as, for instance, that if a sinner in England profanes the sacrament, 'a tiger shall meet him in the churchyard and tear him.' Moreover, he must not be 'too decretory and determinate,' and must only threaten and not prophesy, 'lest the whole dispensation become contemptible.'
(Secondly), How are you to act if you know the truth in one capacity and not in another? A judge knows a man to be innocent who, nevertheless, is proved to be guilty according to the rules of law. How is the judge to act? Taylor, in opposition as he says to the schoolmen, holds that he must acquit. He confines (499, etc.) this however to cases of life and death. In matters of property (510) a judge may give an unjust sentence, if the proof required by the law is produced; though again his knowledge that it is unjust may justify him in favouring the right side 'in all the ways that are permitted him.' It is worth observing that throughout the whole of this discussion, the judge whom Taylor has before him is an abstract judge, bound by abstract rules of evidence, more or less like those of the civil law. He does not perceive that the question cannot even be properly stated till you know specifically the nature of the procedure of which you are speaking, and the part assigned by it to the person vaguely called a judge.
The erroneous conscience is treated of next after the right conscience. No chapter in the book shows so well as this the mischief of regarding conscience as a separate thing. The erroneous conscience binds, we are told, because it 'always has the same commission, as being the same faculty' (13). Throughout the chapter Taylor recognises three parties to the morality of an action — God, the conscience, and the man, who is bound to obey both God and his conscience. This, of course, produces inextricable confusion.
The following passages will illustrate this:—
'Conscience is God's creature, bound to its lord and maker by all the rights of duty and perfect subordination, and therefore cannot prejudice the right and power of its lord, and no wise man obeys the orders of a magistrate against the express law of his king, or the orders of a captain against the command of a general; and, therefore, neither, of conscience, which is God's messenger, against the purpose of the message with which God has intrusted it (xii. 7, 8). . . . The sum is this: God is supreme, and conscience is his vicegerent and subordinate. Now it is certain that the law of an inferior cannot bind against the command of a superior when it is known. But when the superior communicates the notices of his will by that inferior and not otherwise, the subject is to obey that inferior, and in so doing he obeys both. But the vicegerent is to answer for the misinformation, and the conscience for its errors, according to the degree of its being culpable.'All such questions become simple enough, if we remember that a man and his conscience are one, and not two, and that the case of an erroneous conscience is only another name for a bona fide error of judgment, as an excuse for crime or moral wrong. How much God and man will condemn a man for being mistaken, still more how much either or both ought to condemn him, and what 'ought' means in such a connection, are insoluble questions, which, however, Taylor seems to have been feeling after with a view to a solution.
The 'probable and thinking conscience' is next discussed. It means the case of a man who has to act upon probabilities. The most remarkable part of Taylor's treatment of it is the illustration which it gives of moral certainty. It is given in the shape of a statement of the historical evidences of Christianity, not altogether unlike the one which is inserted in the second part of Butler's Analogy (xii. 39-67). It is rhetorical and weak, giving the impression that Taylor had never met with any serious argument on the other side, and that he accordingly wrote off his own statement currente calamo. It contains at least one express contradiction within four pages. He says: 'What the histories of that age reported as a public affair, as one of the most eminent transactions of the world . . . that which was not done in a corner, but was thirty-three years and more in acting ... is so certain that it was, that the defenders of it need not account it a favour to have it presupposed' (39, 40).
A little after, he says (43): 'This blessed person . . . was yet pleased for thirty years together to live an humble ... a pious, and obscure life.' How then can the events of his life have been a 'public affair' . . . 'thirty-three years and more in acting'? It is worth notice that Taylor throughout this book regards the miracles as proof of the divinity of Christ. It does not appear to occur to him that the truth of the miracles is the very issue to be proved. [In his Liberty of Prophesying as already pointed out he takes a diametrically opposite view. VOL.I] Few things would be more curious than to trace the gradual change of tone and topic which may be observed in the great evidential writers from Grotius through Taylor and Baxter to Butler, Lardner, and Paley, and so to the writers of our own day upon the same subject.
The rest of the discussion about the probable conscience (xii. 67-90) is a cumbrous and intricate way of saying that in the absence of certainty, probability should be followed, and that, where there are opposite probabilities, we must look to the specific consequences of the action, which may be of such a nature that it is wise to act upon a very slender probability.
The last part of this proposition is illustrated by an odd case. A man's wife is 'surprised by a Turk's man of war,' and said to have been killed. 'When the sorrow for this accident had boiled down,' the husband marries 'a maid of Brescia.' After some years the second wife hears that the first wife is alive at Malta, but before her husband hears of it, she hears again that the woman at Malta has died. 'The question now arises whether ... it be required that the persons already engaged should contract anew. That a new contract is necessary is universally believed, and is almost certain, for the contrary opinion is affirmed by very few, and relies upon but trifling motives.' The woman, therefore, ought to get her husband to marry her again. 'But now the difficulty arises, for her husband is a vicious man, and hates her, . . . and wishes her dead,' and so is sure not to consent. In this case, says Taylor, 'it is lawful for her to follow that little probability of opinion which says that the consent of one is sufficient for the renovation of the contract.'
This appears to us a dishonest evasion of a superfluous technical difficulty. A person must be unwise who felt any hesitation, under the circumstances, about the moral innocence of continuing to cohabit, but if she did, it would clearly be her duty to act upon what was probably the right opinion. To act upon a slight probability because you have no better guide may be wise in certain cases, but to act upon a slight probability in opposition to a greater probability, because the slight probability is on the side of one's inclinations, is only a dishonest way of taking your inclinations as the guide of your conduct. It is characteristic of Taylor's disingenuity to miss this distinction.
The doubtful conscience (xii. 1-18) is next considered. It differs from the probable conscience, as far as we can understand, only in being rather more doubtful. Taylor's inquiry into it is divided into eight rules, such as 'a negative doubt binds only to caution and observance.' 'A privative doubt cannot of itself hinder a man from acting what he is moved to by an extrinsic argument or inducement that is in itself prudent or innocent.' What 'negative' and 'privative' doubts are is not explained.
There are other rules of a very technical and needlessly cumbrous kind. The only one which possesses much real interest is the last (140). 'When two precepts contrary to each other meet together about the same question, that is to be preferred which binds most.' This relates to such questions as whether a man may be advised to commit a less offence in order to keep him from committing a greater—to pick a pocket instead of committing robbery with violence. Under certain conditions Taylor thinks he may, and upon this question takes occasion to examine at length the question about doing evil that good may come.
It is a most remarkable and audacious passage, and deserves notice, both as an illustration of the occasional vigour of Taylor's rationalism, and as a specimen of the manner in which the most vigorous and audacious speculations might be reconciled with strict orthodoxy as formerly understood:—
'There can be no dispute' (says Taylor) 'that it is highly unlawful to do evil for a good end. St. Paul's words are decretory and passionate in the thing (xii. 158). . . . However, though this be clear and certain, yet I doubt not but all the world does evil that good may come of it, and though all men are of St. Paul's opinion, yet all men do not blame themselves when they do against it. ... First, if we look in Scripture, we shall find that divines eminently holy have served God by strange violences of fact' (159).He refers to David, Elijah, Jehu, and others. In government 'all princes knowingly procure their rights by wrong. . . . We make children vainglorious that they may love noble things (160). . . . Prescription doth transfer right, and confirms the putative and presumed in defiance of the legal and proper (161). . . . All princes think themselves excused if, by inferring a war, they go to lessen their growing neighbours (161). . . . Who will not tell a harmless lie to save the life of his friend? (162) . . . When the judges are corrupt, we think it fit to give them bribes to make them do justice' (162).
The most remarkable illustration of all, however, is given in these striking words:—
'The rules of war and the measures of public interest are not to be estimated by private measures, and therefore, because this is unlawful in private intercourses, it must not be concluded to be evil in the public. For human affairs are so intricate and entangled, our rules so imperfect, so many necessities supervene, and our power is so limited, and our knowledge so little, and our provisions so shortsighted, that those things which are, in private, evils, may be public goods ' (163).The line of thought thus vigorously taken leads obviously enough, straight towards the great question of morals, What, after all, is the real meaning of good and evil? It was not in Taylor's nature to face and work out to the bottom such a problem as this. He contents himself with a cloud of distinctions about 'evils in morality,' (164) and 'evils in nature' (165), 'evils properly and naturally,' evils 'by accident,' 'by our own fault,' 'by the faults of others,' the 'material part,' the 'formality of action' (168), and the like, and ends thus: 'The sum is this, whatsoever is forbidden by the law under which we stand, and, being weighed by its own measures, is found evil, that is in a matter certainly forbidden, not from any outer and accidental reason, but for its natural or essential contrariety to reason and the law of God, that may not be done or procured for any end whatsoever; but what is evil in some circumstances may be good in others, and what is condemned for a bad effect, by a good one may be followed.' All this is a mere fog of words until we assign a definite meaning to the word 'evil,' and hardly any passage in the whole book will better exemplify either the nature or the incurable weakness of Taylor's method.
The last variety of conscience which Taylor considers is the scrupulous conscience. The whole is summed up in a very pretty simile, which is a good illustration of Taylor's wit, and with which we will conclude this article:—
'A scrupulous conscience ... is like a woman handling of a frog or a chicken, which all their friends tell them can do them no hurt, and they are convinced in reason that they cannot, they believe it and know it, and yet when they take the little creature into their hands they shriek, and sometimes hold fast, and find their fears confuted, and sometimes they let go, and find their reason useless' (177).Part 3: August 8, 1868
The Second and Third Books of the Ductor Dubitantium relate respectively to Laws Divine and Laws Human. The first of Divine Laws is the law of nature (xii. 190-280). Upon this point Taylor's views are substantially those of a much later generation. Properly speaking, he says, there is no such thing as a law of nature:—
'And this opinion Carneades did express but rudely, and was for it noted by Lactantius. He said there was no law of nature. But the Christians, who for many ages have followed the school of Aristotle, have been tender in suffering such expressions, and have been great promoters of Aristotle's doctrine concerning the τό ϕυσικόν, 'the natural law.'But, indeed, Aristotle himself in this was various and indetermined' (193), as he proceeds to show.
The substance of his doctrine, which is expressed at great length and in a variety of forms, is almost identical with that of Mr. Austin. The law of nature is nothing but a collection of the maxims the observance of which natural reason deems to be essential to human society. These maxims are law, not on account of our natural inclination to them, or because of the consent of nations, or because they are prompted by reason, but because God has commanded them to be observed, and will enforce their observance by punishments here and hereafter.
Many passages in this inquiry anticipate, though in a cumbrous way, the doctrines of the Utilitarian school of the later part of the eighteenth century and of our own days, and they have in many places a considerable resemblance to Hobbes, to whom, however, Taylor never, so far as we know, directly refers. The following passage is an anticipation of much modern speculation:—
'From all which I conclude that the jus gentium, the law of nations, is no indication of the law of nature; neither, indeed, is there any jus gentium collectively at all; but only the distinct laws of several nations; and therefore it is to be taken distributively; for they are united only by contract or imitation, by fear, or neighbourhood, or necessity, or any other accident which I have mentioned' (207, 208).He points out also that men 'can never agree in their enumeration of the natural laws' (220). Taylor, indeed, goes so far in this direction as to argue elaborately (224) that 'God cannot do an unjust thing, because whatsoever he wills or does is therefore just because he wills and does it,' and he reproves (221) Grotius for teaching that 'God cannot change the law of nature.' It is a singular instance of the differences which exist amongst theologians that Warburton regards this doctrine as atheistic.
The maxims of natural reason thus enacted into a law by God are, according to Taylor (228), the foundation and the measure of the obligation of all laws whatever; and, indeed, it is self-evident that a divine law, sanctioned by eternal happiness or misery, must, in the nature of things, be superior in its obligations to all other laws whatever. It is, however, curious to see upon what trifling grounds Taylor, who apprehends so clearly the true character of the law of nature, regards particular maxims as being articles of that law.
Austin's theory is that the principle of utility is the index to the will of God, so that conduct conformable to rules which tend to produce a maximum of happiness is agreeable to the law of God; but Taylor has no such test. He nowhere clears the matter up fully, but numerous passages in his book indicate the opinion that an intricate theory, founded rather on the civil law than on anything else, was the 'law of nature.' For instance, he argues at length upon the supposition that by the law of nature clandestine marriages are valid, and cannot be annulled, though they may be forbidden by the laws of particular nations (244, 245). It is, of course, an intelligible and imaginable thing that it might please God to make such a law; but why, in the absence of express revelation (which Taylor does not allege), it should be supposed that such was actually the case we cannot understand. It is equally difficult to comprehend why it should be said that 'by the law of nature every man hath power to make a testament of his own goods' (246).
Having thus described the law of nature and glanced at its provisions, Taylor proceeds to the question of sanctions, or, as he calls them, 'bands.' He does not see distinctly the necessity for defining or describing the nature of obligation, but in this passage (230) he approaches the question. 'Fear,' he says, 'is the band of all laws'; 'the stings of conscience and fear of the divine vengeance is this evil which naturally restrains us' (230); but he edges away from this by saying that the wise and good fear not so much punishment as sin. Their fear 'is natural, a fear produced from the congenite notices of things,' 'a fear of being a base person and doing vile things.' The second band of virtue is love; but as fear, the first band, is not to be taken simply, so neither is love. 'It is impossible a man should do great things or suffer nobly without consideration of a reward, and since much of virtue consists in suffering evil things, virtue of herself is not a beatitude, but the way to one' (237). These are excellent instances of the way in which Taylor always trims, and never embraces any view or adopts any principle in a thoroughgoing manner.
These speculations are followed by inquiries of a very technical and superfluous sort about the cases in which God or man can dispense with the law of nature, and the way in which the dispensation can be effected. God can dispense with the law of nature (260-270), but no human power can do so, although civil laws may so alter the circumstances as to vary the application of natural laws (272, 273), and though the rigour of the law of nature, as well as the rigour of human laws, may 'be allayed by equity, piety, and necessity' (278).
From the law of nature in general Taylor passes to the law of nature 'as it is commanded, digested, and perfected by our supreme lawgiver, Jesus Christ.' This is the least interesting part of the book. It refers to the abrogation of the Jewish law, in connection with which it discusses at length the question of prohibited degrees in marriage, and in particular the case of the marriage of first cousins (321-358); the question of image-worship (382-412); the question of the observance of Sunday (412-430). The last of these subjects is the only one which in the present day retains much interest. Taylor treats the institution of Sunday as merely ecclesiastical:—
'The question concerning particular works or permitted recreations is wholly useless and trifling, for "quod lege prohibitoriâ vetitum non est permissum intelligitur," but as for some persons to give themselves great liberties of sport on that day is neither pious nor prudent, so to deny some to others is neither just nor charitable' (429).The most remarkable speculation in this part of the book is under Rule vii. (439-465). 'There is no state of men or things but is to be guided by the proportion of some rule or precept in the Christian law.' Taylor begins the exposition of this rule by setting out at length the necessity which exists for believing that the law of Christ 'must needs be absolute and alone, and unalterable, and perfect, and for ever.' As a general answer to the obvious difficulties of this view, he has the following characteristically beautiful, and not less characteristically fallacious, passage. It occurs amongst the 'cautions to be observed in civil permissions of an unlawful act or state':—
'As it is in the economy of the world, the decree of God doth establish the vicissitudes of night and day for ever; but the sun, looking on a point, not only signifies, but also makes the little portions of time and divides them into hours; but men coming with their little arts and instruments make them to be understood, and so become the sun's interpreters; so it is in the matter of justice, whose great return and firm establishments are made by God, and some rules given for the great measures of it; and we from His laws know just from unjust, as we understand day and night; but the laws of princes and the contracts of men, like the sun, make the little measures, and divide the great proportions into minutes of justice and fair intercourse; and the divines and lawyers go yet lower, and they become expounders of those measures, and set up dials and instruments of notice, by which we understand the proportion and obligation of the law and the lines of justice.'This is a magnificent image, but its speculative worthlessness is shown by what follows:—
'Just and unjust, we love or hate respectively by our warrant from God; and from him also we are taught the general lines of it, as, Do what you would be done to, restore the pledge, hurt no man, rob not your neighbour of his rights, make no fraudulent contracts, no unjust bargains; but then, what are his rights and what not? what is fraudulent and what is fair? in what he hath power, in what he hath none, is to be determined by the laws of men. So that if a commonwealth permits an usurious exchange or contract, it is not unjust' (443).The second part of the extract appears to me (as it appeared to Hobbes) to be perfectly true, but it stultifies the first part. If men decide specifically what is just and what is unjust, it is obvious that the general proposition 'Be just' is only a generalisation deduced from known laws, not a first truth from which other laws are deduced. The greatest of tyrants, the most unmerciful slave-owner, would not object to bind himself to respect his neighbour's rights if he were permitted to define them in the first instance as he pleased. If divines, lawyers, and legislators are to say what specific acts are murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness, it is obvious that they, and not the author of the Ten Commandments, are the real legislators. The Commandments are like the titles of the chapters of a book, and are highly useful as memoranda, but the best table of contents will not enable any one to dispense with the substance of the book itself.
The appreciation of this particular difficulty would have required a more distinct conception of the nature of generalisation than either Taylor or any other writer of his time possessed; but there is another difficulty in the way of his general estimate of the New Testament as a universal moral code, which he appreciated better, though he did not do much towards removing it. He says:—
'Against the doctrine of the rule many things may be objected; for there seem to be many things and great cases for which the laws of the holy Jesus have made no provision. I instance a very great one, that is, the whole state of war, and all the great cases and incidents of it' (446).Some, he says, solve the difficulty by saying that all war is unlawful; but this, he observes, only introduces still greater difficulties. Others say that 'Christianity leaves that matter of war to be conducted by the law of nature and nations;' but this, he says, only 'entangles the whole inquiry.' For Christianity is a perfect digest of the law of nature, and if the law of Christ omits the case of war, so too must the law of nature. If we are to 'look for' the laws of nature on this matter 'in the tables of our own hearts,' we shall find that passion, interest, custom, and education are 'the authors of contrary inscriptions.'
The law of nations comes off still worse (448). There is no digest of it, no sanction to it; it is uncertain, and is 'admitted with variety and by accident'; and, in a word, by this rule 'the measures of war shall be the edicts of any single general, and nothing else.' Having stated his difficulties with his usual force, Taylor tries to remove them with his usual weakness. In the first place, 'if men be subjects of Christ's law they can never go to war with each other.' If they do go to war, they have got beyond the province of law. The injurious person has 'gone beyond all law into a state of things where laws are of no value.' The injured person can do whatever is necessary for his defence; and if it be asked, 'what is the measure of the actions which must be done in the conduct of the defence?' the answer is, he must observe the rules of justice like a private person, which rule of justice requires men, amongst other things, 'to keep themselves within the limits of a just defence,' which limits of a just defence prohibit people at war to hurt those who are not at war, 'except in a case of absolute necessity.' This is surely a very lame account of a matter of vital importance. It leads up to an elaborate inquiry into the value of Old Testament precedents (452-465), of which it is scarcely unjust to say that Taylor's rule is that they are to be used where they are applicable, otherwise not.
The concluding chapter of Book II (xii. 465 to end, xiii. 1-230) relates to the 'interpretation and obligation of the laws of Jesus Christ.' It is very long, and far from interesting. It is composed of twenty rules, several of which are little more than grammatical rules of interpretation. Thus the first rule is—'In negative precepts the affirmatives are commanded, and in the affirmative commandments the negatives are included.' Others are designed to fill up the extreme generality of the New Testament maxims so as to enable commentators to convert them into something approaching, at all events, to a general code of morals. Such are the following:—
'When anything is forbidden by the laws of Jesus Christ, all those things are forbidden also which follow from that forbidden action, and for whose sake it was forbidden. . . . The laws of Jesus Christ are the measures of the Spirit, and are always to be extended to a spiritual signification. . . . All those things also by which we come to a forbidden sin are understood to be forbidden by the same law. . . . Suppositive propositions ("When ye pray, stand not in the corners of the street," "when ye fast," etc., "when ye give alms," etc.) are always equivalent to a commandment.'There is also an investigation of the difference between laws and counsels evangelical, a vindication at great length of the doctrine that the Christian law is fully contained in the Holy Scriptures, and some other matters of less importance.
We will confine ourselves to a very few observations on Taylor's treatment of these subjects. His rules of construction tacitly assume, if not what we should call in these days the verbal inspiration of the New Testament, at all events the exact preservation by the Evangelists of the very words and forms of expression used by Christ, for in many cases they attach consequences of the utmost importance to the negative or affirmative form into which a proposition is thrown. Notwithstanding, however, the sacredness which he attaches to the very words of the Gospels, Taylor is enabled by the maxims quoted to enlarge them to an extraordinary degree. A good instance of this is afforded by part of his chapter on Evangelical counsels. Although a counsel is not in itself a law, 'Yet there is also the minimum morale in it—that is, that degree of love and duty less than which is by interpretation no love, no duty at all.' Thus:—
'When we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourself, the least measure of this law, the legal or negative part of it, is that we should not do him injury; that we shall not do to him what we would not have done to ourselves. He that does not in this sense love his neighbour as himself has broken the commandment' (xiii. 60).These illustrations are enough to show the manner in which Taylor provides means for converting the materials supplied by the New Testament into a complete moral code.
The 14th rule—that the whole Christian law is contained in the Scripture—is mostly controversial, and directed against the Roman Catholics, but incidentally it contains Taylor's theory of the uses of tradition, which is curious and singularly definite. Tradition, he says, 'is of great use for the conveying of this great rule of conscience, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament' (xiii. 114). There are also three doctrines, or rather 'rituals,' as Taylor calls them, which, 'although they have also great grounds in Scripture, yet, because the universal practice and doctrine of the Church of God in all ages, and in all Churches primitive, is infinitely evident and notorious, . . . may be placed under the protection of universal tradition, for they really have it beyond all exception.' These doctrines are—1, The observance of Sunday, especially Easter Sunday. 2, Episcopal government. 3, Offices ecclesiastical (e.g. public prayers and the administration of the Sacrament and other ceremonies), to be performed by ecclesiastical persons.
Upon the weakness of tradition, when stretched beyond these narrow limits, Taylor has some striking passages. Take, for instance, the following comment on 'Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus':—
'No man now knows what the Catholic Church does believe in any question of controversy, for the Catholic Church is not to be spoken with; and, being divided by seas, and nations, and interests, and fears, and tyrants, and poverty, and innumerable accidents, does not declare her mind by any common instrument, and agrees in nothing but in the Apostles' Creed and the books of Scripture, and millions of Christians hear nothing of our controversies, and if they did, would not understand some of them.'The last part of this rule (Ques. III. pp. 153-169) has some interest in these days. It is an inquiry into what we are so familiar with under the title of the doctrine of development, which Taylor opposes so strongly that he gives a very reluctant assent to the propriety of drawing up the Nicene Creed; 'and indeed the thing was very well if it had not been made an ill example . . . afterward the case was altered, and that example was made use of to explicate the same creed till, by explicating the old, they have inserted new articles' (163). He adds, 'All the world is not able to tell us how much is necessary and how much is not if they once go beside the Apostolic Creed' (167).
The Third Book relates to Human Laws, and is divided into six chapters, which treat respectively of human laws in general and their power over the conscience; of penal and tributary laws; of supreme civil powers and their laws; of the powers of the Church in canons and censures; of domestic laws enacted by parents; and of the interpretation, diminution (i.e. relaxation), and abrogation of human laws.
Certain chapters of this Third Book are much the most interesting part of the whole work. The first chapter states, and vindicates at great length, the doctrine that human laws bind the conscience. This doctrine (234), says Taylor, has been greatly disputed, the opposite being believed 'by all the gentlemen and common people of Spain, the scholars only excepted.' Some also of the Calvinists, and Lutherans, and all the Anabaptists, were of the same way of thinking; and so were 'Almain, John Gerson, Felinus, Captan, and Navarre,' as far as concerned the civil laws of princes.
Taylor states eight grounds for their opinion, and elaborately answers them all. The sum of his argument is, that human government is of divine institution, and that the laws of God themselves are reduced to a certainty by the laws of man— e.g. (237) 'God forbade murder; but what is murder in England is not murder in Spain, and vice versâ.' We doubt (upon grounds already pointed out) whether Taylor appreciated the full importance of this remark. But it carries consequences of the very highest importance. It is difficult to overrate the practical importance of this controversy. The different views taken of the moral weight of law in England and in Ireland are a good illustration of it.
After an elaborate answer (250-261) to the eight arguments against his own view, Taylor gives an account of the differences between the obligations imposed by divine and those imposed by human laws (261-266). The principal points are that divine laws bind immediately, human laws mediately. We are bound not only to obey but to approve of divine laws, 'but human laws meddle not with the understanding, for that is a prince, and can be governed as he can be persuaded, but subject to the empire of none but God.' Divine laws are lasting. Human laws cease to bind by change of circumstances and lapse of time.
In subsequent parts of the chapter (rule ii. p. 266, rule iii. p. 274) immense deductions are made from the binding power of human laws. It is said that they do not oblige the conscience to an active obedience when there is imminent danger of death or of an intolerable or very grievous evil, but this is qualified characteristically by a proviso that if obedience is enforced, even at the risk of death, it must be yielded (272). It is also said generally that 'laws which are not just and good do not oblige the conscience' (274); but this again is qualified by five 'cautions' (281), two of which are to the effect that the inconvenience of the law to the republic must be so great as in the judgment of good and prudent men 'to be a sufficient cause of annulling the law,' and 'must reasonably outweigh the evil of material disobedience. Moreover, the inconvenience and injustice 'must be certain, notorious, and relied upon.' These are very slipshod directions. The great defect of the whole speculation is that Taylor never asks himself distinctly what he means by an obligation, and by such words as 'must' and 'ought.'
Of the remaining rules in this chapter one only (rule vii. p. 296) deserves particular notice. It is 'that a law should oblige the conscience, and does not depend upon the acceptation of the law by the people.' The people at large, Taylor owns, may in certain cases have legislative power, though he is careful to say that such governments 'came in wrong' (296), but if they have not, their consent is not wanted. Upon this point he uses one of his fine images: 'Although a horse sometime cannot be ruled without strokings and meet and gentle usages, yet for all that his rider is his master' (279).
The chapter which relates to laws penal and tributary contains a great deal of trifling matter about the cases in which men may and ought to execute judgment on themselves. There are, however, three points in it which deserve express notice. The first is Taylor's vindication of a liberal use of the punishment of death, which he puts on the broad ground of general expediency, though he expressly admits that as to the criminal it frequently 'sends him to hell' (308). The following passage (311) is memorable in its way: 'If there were any other' (punishment) 'less than death, the galleys, and the mines, and the prisons would be nothing but nurseries of villains which, by their numbers, would grow as dangerous as a herd of wolves and lions.' Imagine a bishop of our own days advocating the wholesale extermination of the criminal classes as the best practical solution of the difficulties which they cause!
The second point is Taylor's discussion of the question of truth and falsehood which is suggested to him by considering whether a guilty person may lie to escape the penalty of the law (351-388). The discussion is elaborate and lengthy, but neither profound nor original. It allows of lying in the common cases, and shows a very unnecessary tenderness for equivocation, which, says Taylor, 'may upon less necessity and upon more causes be permitted than lying' (382). However, he adds, a man who equivocates 'had need be very witty to be innocent.' The greatest wit, indeed, will not always do, as we learn from an odd illustration—the case of the devil in the ancient oracles:—
'When he was put to it at his oracles, and durst not tell a downright lie, and yet knew not what was truth many times, he was put to the most pitiful shifts, and trifling equivocations, and acts of knavery which, when they were discovered ... it made him much more contemptible and ridiculous than if he had said nothing or confessed his ignorance' (388).Thirdly, with regard to the tributary laws, Taylor holds that people are bound in conscience to pay taxes (414), and that, whether they are demanded or not (420), and though this 'is to be understood of customs and tributes which are just,' yet most taxes are just, and 'let no merchant trust his own judgment' to the contrary, 'but the sentence of a wise spiritual guide, or of counsel learned in the law' (422). This assigns a remarkable province to casuists and counsel.
In the next chapter, Taylor proceeds to discuss the nature of States, and their laws, which he considers under eight rules (423-549). Though the inquiry is long, its result may be expressed shortly. First, as to the civil power in general, which is considered in the first four rules: Taylor agrees with Hobbes that 'the supreme power in every republic is universal, absolute, and unlimited' (423). This absolute power, however, 'is but an absolute power of government, not of possession; it is a power of doing right, but not a power of doing wrong' (427). The Sovereign is 'superior to the civil laws, but not wholly free from them'; but this rule 'hath been thrust into great difficulty.' 'Disputations in this case are not prudent or safe; but precepts and sermons and great examples, and the sayings of wise men, and positive affirmations in those particulars that be manifest' (435).
After much trimming and quoting of contradictory authorities, Taylor at last comes to the conclusion that the Sovereign is bound in conscience to keep the law, but that there is no remedy if he breaks it. The law is his guide, not his master. This is more fully explained in the next rule, which advocates the doctrine of passive obedience with extraordinary warmth of language:—
'I do not know any proposition in the world clearer and more certain in Christianity than this rule. ... I have an ill task to write cases of conscience if such things as these shall be hard to be persuaded, for there are very few things in which any man is to hope for half so much conviction as in this article lies before him in every topic' (454).It is needless to refer to his proofs of this proposition. They consist partly of the well-known texts of the Bible upon the subject, and partly of a passionate declamation on the evils of anarchy. Civil war is a universal evil, but as for a bad prince, 'let him be lustful, he shall not ravish the Commonwealth; and if he be bloody, his sword cannot cut off very great numbers; and if he be covetous, he will not take away all men's estates' (467).
No stronger proof can be given of the horrors of civil war than the fact that the recollection of it should lead such a man as Taylor to talk such degrading nonsense.
The last four rules of the chapter refer to the authority of the civil power in things ecclesiastical. It would be difficult for Hobbes himself to assert the royal prerogative much more vigorously:—
'It is necessary that the supreme power of kings or states should be governors in religion, or else they are but half kings at the best (475). The prince cannot rule without it (religion); he is but the shadow of a king, the servant of his priests; and, if they rule religion, they may also rule him' (479).Religion, having a great influence over morals (479), and great power over individuals (480), the civil government must rule religion:—
'This course of forbidding new religions is certainly very prudent, and infinitely just and pious (484). . . . Against the law no man is to be permitted to bring in new religions, excepting those only who can change the law and secure the peace.'The civil power, moreover, ought to legislate upon 'affairs of religion and the Church,' and that both in the punishment of sin as a crime (493), when it appears desirable, and also in all ecclesiastical matters 'which are directly under no commandment of God' (493). In case of a conflict between the temporal and spiritual powers the temporal power is to be obeyed unless its commands are opposed to the divine law, in which case the spiritual power is to be obeyed, not as a substantive authority, but as the interpreter of a divine command:—
'If the supreme civil power should command that the bishops of his kingdom should not ordain any persons that had been soldiers or of mean trades to be priests, or consecrate any knight to be a bishop; though the bishops should desire it very passionately, they have no power to command or do what the civil power has forbidden. But if the supreme should say there should be no bishops at all and no ordination of ministers of religion according to the laws of Jesus Christ,' then the bishops or others bound to ordain must do so (523), and give directions as to the circumstances. If, however, the spiritual power forbids what the civil power only permits—e.g. marriage in certain degrees of consanguinity or affinity—then the spiritual power binds the conscience unless the civil power has forbidden its exertion (527, 528). The civil power has jurisdiction over internal and spiritual, as well as merely ecclesiastical, causes. It may declare a doctrine to be heretical, as well as decide upon a right to present to a living:—In short, the maxim to be followed is, ecclesia est in republicâ, non respullica in ecclesiâ:—
'If by excommunications the bishop can disturb the civil interest, the civil power can hold his hands that he shall not strike with it; or if he does, can take out the temporal sting that it shall not venom and fester. If by strange doctrines the ecclesiastics can alien the hearts of subjects from their duty, the civil power can forbid those doctrines to be preached. If the canons of the church be seditious, or peevish, or apt for trouble, the civil power can command them to be rescinded or refuse to verify them and make them into laws' (534).
'The church is not a distinct state or order of men, but the commonwealth turned Christian (536). ... It is necessary that the supreme power should determine what doctrines are to be taught the people and what are to be forbidden' (540).The utmost that can be said of the clergy is that they are advisers divinely constituted whom the Sovereign is bound in conscience to hear (543 seq.)
This vigorous exposition of the rights of the State over the Church, which carries out Hooker's theory to its extreme limit, is followed by a chapter on the power of the Church in canons and censures. He reduces it within very narrow limits, and, indeed, makes the power of the Church merely declaratory:—
'The use of the keys does differ from proper jurisdiction in this great thing—that if the keys be rightly used, they do bind and loose respectively; but if they err, they do nothing upon the subject, they neither bind nor loose. Now in proper jurisdiction it is otherwise; for, right or wrong, if a man be condemned he shall die for it, and if he be hanged he is hanged' (559).As to excommunication, it 'operates only upon the will and understanding which can have no coercion; so that in effect it compels those who are willing to be compelled, that is, it does not compel at all, and therefore is but improperly an act of jurisdiction. ... It must work wholly by opinion, and can affright them only that are taught to be afraid of it' (561).
So, of Church legislation, the bishop may command what God has already commanded, and nothing else. All that his command effects is to increase the guilt of the offender, but if, and in so far as, his command goes beyond God's command, it is of no effect at all (570).
The chapters relating to the power of priests, and to the 'diminution' of laws by equity or otherwise, contain some interesting points, but they are less interesting than those which we have attempted to describe. We have devoted much space to this work because it is seldom read, and also because it illustrates better almost than any other book in the language, a remarkable point in the history of speculation—the transition from moral theology to moral philosophy, from the text-books of the confessional to the works of writers on morals, regarded as a matter of ordinary speculation. The Ductor Dubitantium may be compared to a point of view from which we can look in two directions; backwards to the casuists whose names only are known to modern readers— Suarez, Sanchez, and scores of others, who are quoted by Pascal and his antagonists—and forwards to Paley and Bentham. It has something in common with both, and throws light upon both.
Saturday Review, April 25, June 6, and August 8, 1868.