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Essays on Principles of Morality and Natural Religion

Henry Home

Publication Year: 2012

The Essays is commonly considered Kames’s most important philosophical work. In the first part, he sets forth the principles and foundations of morality and justice, attacking Hume’s moral skepticism and addressing the controversial issue of the freedom of human will. In the second part, Kames focuses on questions of metaphysics and epistemology to offer a natural theology in which the authority of the external senses is an important basis for belief in the Deity.Like Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Butler, Kames rejected the idea that morality is founded on self-interest and argued that human beings naturally possess a “moral sense,” or conscience. At the same time, Kames believed our naturally benevolent inclinations could become law-like only through the principle of justice, which “guards the persons, the property, and the reputation of individuals, and gives authority to promises and covenants.”He also sought to counter the epistemological skepticism of Berkeley and Hume, insisting that our sense perceptions must be trustworthy because they have been designed for us by a benevolent Deity. “In its concern to vindicate the veracity of our common moral intuitions and sense perceptions that are rooted in our very nature,” Mary Catherine Moran writes, “the Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion helped found the Scottish Common Sense school,” a philosophy that was given its classic formulation by Kames’s friend Thomas Reid.The text of this volume is based on the third edition of 1779, while the appendix presents substantial variant readings in the first and second editions..

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782), one of the leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment, was a judge in the supreme courts of Scotland and wrote extensively on morals, religion, education, aesthetics, history, political economy, and law, including natural law. His most distinctive contribution came through his works on the nature of law, where he sought to combine a philosophical approach with an empirical history of legal evolution.

Mary Catherine Moran taught in the Department of History at Columbia University.

Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History and Director of the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents I

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pp. ix-xix

Lord Kames’s Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion is at once a typical example of and an original contribution to the Scottish Enlightenment’s distinctive attempt to construct a moral science based on the principles of natural law. From Gershom Carmichael in the 1690s to Thomas Reid and Adam Ferguson in the 1780s, the teaching and writing ...

Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion

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pp. 1

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Preface to the Former Editions

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pp. 3

It is proper to acquaint the reader, that the following Essays are not thrown together without connection. The first, by the investigation of a particular fact, is designed to illustrate the nature of man, as a social being. The next considers him as the subject of morality.And as morality supposes freedom of action, this introduces the disquisition on Liberty and Necessity. These ...

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Preface to the Present Edition

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pp. 5-6

I must acknowledge it to have been once my opinion, that there is in man a sense of being able to act against motives, or against our inclination and choice, commonly termed liberty of indifference. I was carried along in the current of popular opinion; and could not dream but that this sense really existed, when I found it vouched by so many grave writers. I had at the ...

Table of Contents II

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pp. 7-8

Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion Part I

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Essay I. Our Attachment to Objects of Distress

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pp. 11-22

A noted French critic,* treating of poetry and painting, undertakes a subject attempted by others unsuccessfully, which is, to account for the strong attachment we have to objects of distress, imaginary as well as real. ...

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Essay II. Foundation and Principles of Morality

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pp. 23-95

Superficial knowledge produces the boldest adventurers, because it gives no check to the imagination when fired by a new thought. Shallow writers lay down plans, contrive models, and are hurried on to execution by the pleasure of novelty, without considering whether, after all, there be any solid foundation to support the spacious edifice. It redounds not a little to the ...

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Essay III. Liberty and Necessity

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pp. 97-123

When we apply our thoughts to final causes, no subject more readily presents itself than the material world, which is stamped with the brightest characters of wisdom and goodness. The moral world, being less in view, hath been generally overlooked, though it yields not to the other in rich materials. Man’s inward system will be found no less admirable, than the ...

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Essay IV. Personal Identity

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pp. 125-130

Every man by nature has a sense of himself and of his own existence; which, for the most part, accompanies every thought and action. I say, for the most part, because this sense does not always operate. In a dead sleep we have no consciousness of self. And even some of our waking thoughts pass without it: during a reverie, the mind never thinks of itself. Without this sense, ...

Appendix. Containing the Substance of a Pamphlet Wrote in Defence of the Third Essay

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pp. 131-139

Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion Part II

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Essay I. Belief

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pp. 143-148

Desiring, wishing, resolving, willing, believing, signify all of them simple mental acts that cannot be defined; and yet are understood by all the world, every man being familiarly acquainted with them passing daily in his own mind. When I say that I believe Caesar was murdered in the senate-house, that Ganganelli was a good Pope, or that the King of Britain has thirteen ...

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Essay II. External Senses

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pp. 149-164

...For the sake of perspicuity, this Essay is divided into several sections. First, perceptions of the different external senses. Second, substance and qualities. Third, primary and secondary qualities. Fourth, veracity of the external senses.i ...

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Essay III. Different Theories of Vision

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pp. 165-177

The sense of seeing is one of the most simple and distinct of all that belong to man. And yet by many philosophers it has been rendered so intricate, as to tempt plain people to a diffidence and distrust of it. The present Essay is intended to point out the errors of these philosophers, and to restore the sense of seeing to the authority it justly possesses in human nature, with ...

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Essay IV. Matter and Spirit

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pp. 179-184

Whatever is extended in length, breadth, thickness, is termed matter. Hence, it is an essential property of every particle of matter to occupyspace, and to exclude every other particle from that space. As we have no notion of spirit but as opposed to matter, spirit and immaterial substance pass as synonimous terms. The property therefore of extension, or length, breadth ...

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Essay V. Power, Cause and Effect

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pp. 185-191

As all things on this globe are in a continual flux, much activity and new productions without end, man would be ill fitted for his station, were he kept in ignorance of the laws that govern animate and inanimate beings. Without some notion of power in himself and in others, he would rival in ignorance the lowest of the brute creation, and be utterly at a loss how to regulate his conduct. ...

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Essay VI. Knowledge of Future Events

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pp. 193-195

While we are tied to this globe, some knowledge of the beings around us and of their operations, is necessary; because, without it, we should be utterly at a loss how to conduct ourselves. But that knowledge is not sufficient for our well-being, and scarce for our preservation. It is like ways necessary, that we have some knowledge of future events; for about these we are mostly employed. ...

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Essay VII. Dread of Supernatural Powers in the Dark

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pp. 197-200

A very slight view of human nature is sufficient to convince us, that we were not dropt here by accident. This earth is fitted for man, and man is fitted for inhabiting this earth. By our senses we have an intuitive knowledge of the things that surround us, at least of those things, by which we may be affected. We can discover objects at a distance. We discern them in their ...

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Essay VIII. Knowledge of the Deity

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pp. 201-235

The arguments a priori for the existence and attributes of the Deity, are urged, with the greatest shew of reason, in the sermons preached at Boyle’s lectures.1 But these sermons, though they command my attention, never reach my heart: on the contrary, they always give me a sensible uneasiness; the cause of which I imagine I can now explain. Such deep metaphysical ...

Appendix. Significant Variant Readings

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pp. 237-264


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pp. 265-268


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pp. 269-280

Production Notes

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E-ISBN-13: 9781614878209
E-ISBN-10: 161487820X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865974494

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None