A. E. Taylor, "Critical Notice of Broad's Five Types of Ethical Theory," Mind 39 (1930): 338-46.


Five Types of Ethical Theory. By C. D. BROAD. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner @ Co., Ltd., 1930. Pp. xxv + 228. 15s.

A book on ethics by Dr. Broad is bound to be welcome to all lovers of clear thought. There is no branch of philosophical study which stands more in need of the special gifts which mark all Mr. Broad's writing, great analytical acumen, eminent lucidity of thought and statement, serene detachment from irrelevant prejudices. Indeed, one might even say that the very defects inseparable from these qualities contribute to the peculiar merit of the book. One such defect is confessed in the apology made in the Preface (p. xxiv.) for want of "experience, both practical and emotional," and the lack of what other men call a vivid "sense of sin". I do not doubt that these are real defects in a moralist. If he really has no experience -- though Dr. Broad's language about himself is presumably not to be taken too literally - of serious struggle with temptation to grave wrongdoing, and knows nothing of keen emotional penitence for wrong done, even a careful and acute analyst of the facts of the moral life is likely to see too much only what lies fairly on the surface. In morals, as in art, there is a childlike innocence which does disqualify its possessor from plumbing the depths. A man need not have been personally a gross sinner before he can be a profound moralist, but perhaps he does need to be able in imagination to "go along" with the sinner, as Plato or Augustine could, and as Sidgwick, or even St. Thomas, pretty plainly could not. And a man is not very likely to understand a subject to the bottom if the contemplation of it cannot stir him to a white heat of emotion. Even the mathematician, I take it, must be 'in love with' geometry, to be quite in the front rank of geometers. But on the other side it may be said that the heat of the passionately ardent soul is more often a red heat than a white; its vision may pierce deep, but is apt to be turbid, whereas whatever Dr. Broad sees, he always sees with singular clarity, and he can tell us very lucidly just what it is as one would expect of a Fellow of Trinity and devoted admirer of Trinity's famous moralist, Henry Sidgwick. I should not myself complain, as some readers perhaps may, that the author's very detachment leads to an entire freedom from metaphysical prepossessions of every kind. No doubt, morality, like everything else, has its metaphysical presuppositions, and the last word has not been said about it until it has been ascertained what they are. But before we can profitably ask that question, it is surely necessary that there should be a thoroughly worked-out account of the "phenomenology" of the moral consciousness to go upon, and Dr. Broad's discussion of his five typical moralists seems to me an exceptionally valuable contribution to such a phenomenology.

There are, in fact, only two minor peculiarities of manner and temper on which, if I may be forgiven, I should like to utter a word of friendly remonstrance. One is a tendency to a rather forced and self-conscious facetiousness, which shows itself not for the first time in the present volume. Is it permitted to hint that the charm of humour lies very much in its spontaneity? As soon as it is consciously sought after, it becomes facetiousness, and the facetiousness of even such a natural humorist as Dickens is annoying to a really cultivated taste. (A propos of Dickens, I could wish that on page 31 there had not been an unhappy confusion of Mrs. Jellyby with the landlady of the Marquis of Granby inn.) The other is that Dr. Broad occasionally allows himself really irrelevant expressions of disputable personal opinion, apparently, like Alexander Pope, in the amiable desire "to vex somebody." It may be that T. H. Green was a "second-rate" thinker, and again that Sidgwick was a greater philosopher than F. H. Bradley, but these dicta are manifestly capable of being disputed, are not really pertinent to the argument, and may be felt by the members of other societies to be little more than an expression of the natural partialities of a Cambridge man and a Fellow of Trinity.

Mr. Broad's five typical moralists are Spinoza, Butler, Hume, Kant and Sidgwick. The chapters on the first four, originally delivered as public lectures (that on Butler in his own cathedral city of Bristol, the others in Dublin), are comparatively brief but admirably penetrating statements of the main tenets of each thinker, accompanied by acute criticisms intended for a highly intelligent but not specialist audience. The treatment of Sidgwick, which is on a much larger scale, has been specially added to complete the volume, and bears marks of having originated in the systematic study of the Methods of Ethics with pupils reading for the Moral Sciences Tripos. A brief biographical account of the lives and characters of the five moralists is prefixed, and the book ends with an only too brief statement of the writer's own convictions on some of the fundamental issues of ethics. I propose to offer a few remarks on each of these divisions.

The short biographical introduction naturally gives occasion for no very special comment. Perhaps I may just say that it seems to me very difficult not to believe that Spinoza's visit to the French Headquarters in 1673 was really connected with some negotiation which could not well have been undertaken openly, so that the popular excitement about it at The Hague may not have been so wholly unreasonable as Dr. Broad seems to suppose. Also I think it only fair to Dr. Johnson to say that what gave him "offence" in 1776 was not so much Hume's own composure in the face of death as the certainly rather indiscreet published language of Adam Smith about Hume's last days. And I doubt whether Kant's Metaphysik der Sitten should be described as a "second part" of the Grundlegung. Far the hardest task Dr. Broad has set himself is that of giving an intelligent audience, with no previous acquaintance with the subject, an account of Spinoza's doctrine which shall be at once brief, clearly intelligible, and full and accurate enough to serve as the basis for really effective criticism. Hard as the task is -- and it involves explaining not only the Spinozistic view about mind and body, but the doctrine of the idea ideae -- Dr. Broad has succeeded to a marvel; I doubt whether any other existing statement of this point of view is likely to be found so clear and helpful by the student who is beginning to face the difficulties of the author for the first time. In sketching the moral theory of the Ethics, Dr. Broad naturally enough in view of the conditions, confines himself to the Fourth Part and the first half of the Fifth, omitting everything connected with the conceptions of "knowledge of the highest type" and the "intellectual love of God." This was probably unavoidable, and is certainly permissible, in view of the avowed intention to discuss a certain type of moral theory on its own merits, apart from the historical question how far the theory really represents the views of a particular philosopher. But, as Dr. Broad is well aware, the consequence is, of course, that what has to be left out is just all that really matters most in the Ethics, the doctrines which meant most to Spinoza and have always done most to make him attractive to the finest type of mind. I am glad to have Dr. Broad's recorded support for the conviction that these doctrines are entirely inconsistent with the "naturalism" of the main bulk of the Ethics, so lucidly expounded in Dr. Broad's lecture; the inconsistency, if meditated on, raises a very important question which it would not have been to Dr. Broad's purpose to discuss, the question whether it is not, in the end, impossible to sever ethics from religion without destroying the distinctive character of ethics itself. In the actual exposition of Ethics, II.-IV., I presume Dr. Broad is fully alive to the fact that the really terrible difficulties of Spinoza's doctrine of mind and body are not removed, but merely decently veiled, by the usual phraseology about the heterogeneous but inseparable twin "aspects" of all events. The further, and to my mind, even more perplexing doctrine of the relation between the idea and the idea ideae is probably put in as favourable a light as it can receive by Dr. Broad's interesting illustration of the patient suffering from indigestion and his physician; but here too, I take it, Dr. Broad would not maintain that the difficulties are really more than disguised.

For my own part, I cannot succeed in making the theory, that the "object" of every idea is always a state of the body with which the mind to which the idea belongs is connected, intelligible. When I know that eπi =-1, or that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, I cannot see that in knowing these things I am being "acquainted" with any state of my body, though Dr. Broad is clearly right in saying that Spinoza believes this and thinks it a truth of tremendous importance. To me it seems simply false, and I cannot escape believing that Spinoza is merely equivocating about the meaning of "object". The equivocation seems to me a complicated one, and I suspect that it originates in some such way as this. An object is thought of as a representation which "mirrors" something represented and is caused by that which it "mirrors" (the traditional Neo-Platonist way of thinking about causality). The representation is then supposed, very inconsistently, at one and the same time to be caused by the thing represented, and also to be caused by the state of my "cerebral centres" apart from which, it is assumed, there would be no representation, and these two points of view are thrown together by the ambiguous use of the word 'object' to mean at once that of which I am aware in knowledge, and also a process in my body assumed to be a condition of my having the knowledge. Finally, it is forgotten that the whole theory originates in a certain view about the nature of causality, and it is actually denied that either Caesar's passage of the Rubicon or the state of my brain has any causal connexion with my knowledge that Caesar crossed the river. I may be exposing my own incompetence in this confession that I can see nothing but complicated confusion in what has been regarded as the profoundest of philosophical truths, but I really see nothing better in it. On the further problem about the idea ideae Dr. Broad says, so far as I can see, all that man can say, but I am sure he knows that he is merely evading the question which he admits that Spinoza's doctrine raises, "where are the adequate ideas corresponding to the vital processes in the life of an animal's body?" I do not myself see how Spinoza could have answered the question without constructing a fantastic mythology, and I think the correspondence with Tschirnhaus indicates that he came at last to see that there is an unsolved problem here.

On the more specially ethical issues involved in his discussion I think Dr. Broad generally admirable; in particular, I would call attention to his, as I think it, unanswerable criticism of the famous denial that consciousness of my desires affects my action, and to his instructive comment on Spinoza's ingenious attempt to deduce a rule of social beneficence from strictly egoistic premises, that all that has been shown is that an egoistic "free man," living in a society of persons who are not "free" enlightened egoists, would have good reason for general conformity to their moral code. There are just two further points on which I could wish that Dr. Broad had said something more than he has done. Is there any reason to believe that the practice of "considering all that befalls us as inevitable" would really lead, as Spinoza assumes, to a true peace of mind? It seems to me that it. would be more likely to result in a dreary acedia, unless it was accompanied, as was the case with the Stoics, by a religious confidence in the "working together for good" of all events; and this is logically excluded by Spinoza's hostility to teleology. And, again, had Spinoza any right to retain any distinction between good and bad in his system? It is true as Dr. Broad says, that he reduces the distinction to the levei of 'naturalism' by making good mean "appropriate to the characteristic functions of the species". But is the implied belief in the reality of the species consistent with Spinoza's more nominalistic utterances? The correspondence with Blyenbergh shows what difficulties Spinoza had on the point when closely pressed.

The account of Butler, a favourite thinker with Dr. Broad seems to me almost as good as could be given, and I am particulariy glad to find Dr. Broad giving no countenance to the attempt made, on absurdly weak grounds, to show that Butler ever co-ordinated "self-love" with "conscience". If I may suggest a mild criticism where I find myself in almost complete agreement, I would urge reconsideration on one or two points. I do not see why Butler's 'teleology' should be deprecated on page 58. Dr. Broad says that Butler's language is only justified on the assumption that "man has been made by God" for a certain purpose. I should say rather that the familiar theological phrase is a pictorial way and a very good pictorial way, of stating something which is obviously true viz., that there is a real teleological unity pervading the whole world, as another eminent Cambridge philosopher is just now asserting very vigorously. The existence of God seems to me to follow naturally from this all-pervading teleology, but I do not see that Butler's argument necessitates more than the recognition of the fact. Again I doubt whether Butler, who always speaks in the Sermons of "three" active principles, would altogether have acquiesced in the addition of 'benevolence' as a fourth (p. 60). In the Sermons, I think, Butler probably regards the systematic practice of universal benevolence as a case of that "joining" of "conscience" to a "particular passion" of which he speaks in the Preface. I do not see that he requires a fourth "principle" to account for it, any more than he needs a fifth to explain the behaviour of a man who prosecutes for years a systematic scheme of revenge on his opponents, or a sixth to deal with the case of the man who devotes his life to making a fortune on the Stock Exchange. In the Dissertation, I even feel that "interest" or "self-love" itself is reduced to a lower rank than that given it in the Sermons by the suggestion that neglect of our own happiness is wrong, not so much because it is opposed to 'self-love,' as hecausc "conscience" forbids it. Butler seems to me here on the straight way to the view that all "imperatives" are deliveries of "conscience". Also it is surely by an oversight that on page 81 the suggestion that "God is a Utilitarian," is spoken of as though it represented Butler's own tentative opinion. Read along with its context, the suggestion must surely be taken as one which Butler regards as impiously presumptuous to make. His point is only that even on that hypothesis we should have no excuse for attempting to promote universal happiness in ways which "conscience" condemns.

I may deal more briefly with the luminous account of Hume. In view of much that is commonly said about Hume's view of good, I think it an important point, with Dr. Broad, to distinguish various types of Hedonism, and to insist that the Hedonism of Hume is synthetic (i.e., that he does not regard "pleasant" as the whole, or part, of the meaning of "good"), and empirical (i.e., that he takes it as a mere inexplicable case of "conjunction" that whatever is good happens also to be directly or indirectly pleasant), and this is why, to make his theory work, he has to assume the reality of the "feeling of humanity," as well as the reality of the tendency to "sympathy". I particularly commend the force with which Dr. Broad states the insuperable difficulty of accounting for the approbation of Justice on Hume's principles. I, like him, feel sure that (p. 97) we should not unreservedly approve a distribution of property which we judged to be markedly unfair, even if we knew that it stimulated production so efficiently that every one got more happiness than would result from a fairer distribution. It does seem to me certain that disapprobation of unfairness is as fundamental a characteristic of human nature as dislike of pain, and that unfairness is resented simply because it is unfair. This, I think, is the strongest obvious point in the case of the Rationalist in ethics against the Sentimentalist. It is worth noting that even Bentham had to introduce an independent principle of Justice into his scheme, to get it to work. (For he never attempts to show that the rule "every one to count for one" has any logical connexion with the "greatest happiness principle".) A particularly good feature of the discussion of Hume is the account of the functions of "Reason". These, according to Dr. Broad are three: (1) the function of a priori concepts, (2) inference, (3) the perception of necessary connexion between characteristics. Hume always ignores (1), and in his ethical works, though not always elsewhere, he ignores (3) also. Hence the futility of his professed demonstration that Reason plays no part in determining our approbations and disapprobations.

In the generally excellent account of Kant, there are, I think, one or two awkward slips. It is surely not true that Kant either held, or tried to prove, that nothing is intrinsically good but a good will. What Kant says is something quite different, that nothing is always and unconditionally good but a good will. ("Happiness" is not, for, according to Kant, happiness is only good when it is the consequence of virtue: but it is essential to Kant's moral theology that the happiness which comes to the virtuous as a consequence of their virtue is intrinsically good. If it were not, the moral problem to which Kant regards Theism as giving a solution would not exist.) Again, it is not a just criticism to say (p. 117) that Kant has only produced evidence to prove that "a good will is a necessary constituent of a whole which is intrinsically good," and that this leaves it possible that the good will by itself should have no intrinsic worth. It is precisely to exclude any such view that Kant appeals to what he takes to be the admitted fact that we judge that a good will prevented by circumstances from taking effect loses none of its value, but "shines like a jewel in the dark". Dr. Broad may hold that this judgment is mistaken, but he must surely admit that if it is, as Kant thought, a true judgment, it proves the point at issue.

Again, I doubt very much the accuracy of such a statement as that on page 118 that Kant holds that an action "cannot be right" unless it is done on some general principle which the agent accepts. I do not think we can fairly make the equation "acts which have moral value" = right acts. It has always seemed to me that Kant meant that such acts, and only they, are meritorious. He cannot have supposed that it was "not right" in himself to smoke his morning pipe, because he was not doing so for the sake of obeying a Categorical Imperative. I think he only meant, to put it crudely, that one does not get a "good mark," any more than a bad one for acts which are in accord with duty, though not done "from duty." At least, I am sure that we ought to consider seriously whether this was not his meaning; and, to prove that it was not, we need to show that he actually thought it wrong to do anything on impulse. On the other side, when Dr. Broad absolves Kant from the "foolish" accusation of regarding the individual conscience as infallible (p. 122), he seems to have forgotten Kant's express assertion that an "erring conscience" is an Unding. I cannot here follow Dr. Broad through the course of his acute criticism of the Kantian Ethics, and must content myself with the remark that while, as I think Dr. Broad would readily admit, the defects noted in Kant are in the main those which have given offence to earlier critics, the singularly lucid and delightfully untechnical exposure of them is altogether Dr. Broad's own. Space only permits of my adding that I do not feel satisfied by the attempt to discriminate between two or more senses of the word "ought" which is employed at page 141 ff., and again, with still more subtlety at page 163 ff. (in the chapter on Sidgwick) for the purpose, partly, of invalidating the foundations of a "moral theology" (in Kant's sense of that phrase). I should certainly agree with Dr. Broad that there is a certain difference in meaning between the "ought" of "I ought to do this," and the "ought" of "This ought not to be", but I doubt very much whether it is true to say that the first of these "oughts" involves "factual," the second only "logical" possibility. I must not attempt to argue the point here, and will merely remark that if the second "ought" only means, as Dr. Broad says, that the state of things called "this" involves no logical contradiction, and "that any being who could bring it about ought to try to do so." Dr. Broad's case would be made out. But my own feeling is that the second "ought" involves a good deal more than this, though it may be hard to say just how much more, exactly as Dr. Broad himself holds (p. 195) that the doctrine of Free Will contains an important truth, though he professes himself unable to say just what that truth is. When a man says with real conviction that "virtue ought to be rewarded," he does not, I feel sure, mean no more than that "if there is a good God, He will reward virtue," nor yet, I think, is it meant simply to assume that "there is a good God". What is assumed, I believe, is something not easy to formulate exactly which goes beyond the first of these positions without being equivalent to the second.

I have said so much about the first half of Dr. Broad's book that I am compelled to abstain from commenting at any length on the very interesting second half in which he gives us a very careful analysis and criticism of Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics, followed by a few pages indicative of personal convictions on ethical questions. I am the more sorry to be forced to do this that I find the questions raised by the analysis of Sidgwick the most interesting part of the whole work. But I do not see how the views Dr. Broad developes in these analyses could be adequately discussed except in a whole series of essays. It is particularly interesting to know that Dr. Broad can be fairly claimed as a Rationalist in Ethics, in the more reasonable sense of the epithet, on the strength of his conviction that the notion of right is an a priori concept, and again, that (p. 194) he agrees with some of the rest of us in holding that 'determinism' is really not respectable as a theory of voluntary action. (At least he wittily compares the "scientific explanations" of the determinist (p. 194) with those of Moliere's doctors.) I hope I may be pardoned if I suggest that, in the interesting attempt to make a classification of possible moral theories, too much, perhaps, is made of a distinction between "naturalistic" and "non-naturalistic" theories of morals which, as stated, is really ambiguous. I do not doubt that with a sufficiently rigid definition of "naturalism" the distinction is of great importance; my difficulty is that Dr. Broad's own definition seems to me not careful enough. A "naturalistic theory" is said (p. 257) to be one which holds "that ethical characteristics can be analysed without remainder into non-ethical ones," and so far, no doubt, the formal definition is one which is beyond criticism. But on page 259 we find it further said that it is "naturalism" to define virtue as the efficient performance of the "activities of the species to which you belong." Now, on the face of it, it should follow that not only Spinoza, but Aristotle, and even Plato, who certainly would not have denied that "doing the specific work of man" is what we mean by being virtuous, are "naturalists". And an interpretation of the word "naturalism" which will make it extend to Plato will hardly allow us to refuse the name "naturalist" to any moral philosopher. I think, therefore, that the real distinction between "naturalistic" and "non-naturalistic" theories of morals has somehow slipped through Dr. Broad's fingers in the course of his discussion. Is it not an intelligible position to hold that virtue may be quite correctly defined as "efficient discharge of the functions of our species," and also to hold that when we come to say what these functions specific to "man as man" are, we require to introduce the ultimate and indefinable notions of "good," or of "right," or possibly of both? What makes Spinoza, at any rate in all but the concluding section of his chief work, a "naturalist," is surely not that he regards virtue as "living the human life efficiently," but that he thinks he can say what the human life is adequately in the language of biology?

One other word by way of defence of certain memories dear to Oxford men. I think that devotion to Sidgwick has led Dr. Broad all through his book to attach too much importance to the opposition of Egoism and "Altruism," an antithesis which seems to me after all a secondary one, both in moral theory and in moral practice. A consequence of the stress laid on this antithesis is that both Green and Bradley figure as 'egoists,' and, in view of the meaning of the word 'egoist' taken over by Dr. Broad from Sidgwick, I submit that this amounts to a perversion of the thought of the two Oxford philosophers. Nothing was further from the teaching of either than "egoism" as defined by Sidgwick, the view that the only good it is incumbent on me to pursue for its own sake is good to be personally enjoyed by myself. It is true that both Green and Bradley held that my business as a moral agent is to become a genuine moral person, but they also held, as Bradley explicitly put it, that it is only by becoming a member of a "larger whole" and finding my own good in the promotion of the good of that "whole," for its own sake, that I can really grow into moral personality. The whole point of Bradley's exaltation of "my station" is that, in setting myself to discharge the "duties of my station" efficiently, I have a definite scheme of action marked out for me, in respect to which it is strictly irrelevant to ask whether the "results" it secures are to be enjoyed by myself, or by my neighbour. To be sure anyone who decides to call a doctrine of this kind "egoism," on the ground that Green and Bradley insist so much on the point that the whole process is the process by which the agent becomes a true moral ego, is strictly within his rights. But a real injustice is committed when the egoist in this sense of the word is identified with Sidgwick's "rational egoist," or is supposed to be maintaining psychological theses refuted in advance by Hume or Hutcheson.

I must once more apologise for the inadequacy of my treatment of so facinating a book as Dr. Broad's.


Transcribed into hypertext by Andrew Chrucky, June 25, 2001.