- [The Ethics of Satisfaction in Tucker’s The Light of Nature Pursued]
- The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd
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136 ] [The Ethics of Satisfaction in Tucker’s The Light of Nature Pursued]1 [The Ethics of Satisfaction in Tucker’s The Light of Nature Pursued] was written at Harvard in spring 1914 for “Philosophy 20d: Seminary in Ethics” taught by Professor Ralph Barton Perry. The content for the course is described as “the history of ethics.” “The life of a man devoted to study and retirement, to the investigation of metaphysical truth, and the practice of religious duties, can indeed hardly be expected to afford much in the detail to amuse or interest the public: And the uniform regularity of the life of the author of the ‘Light of Nature’ was certainly interrupted by few extraordinary occurrences” [I.iv]. These are the prefatory words of his grandson, Sir St. John Mildmay, who writes the introduction to The Light of Nature. Tucker was born in London in 1705, the son of a wealthy merchant; went to Oxford, studied French, Italian, music, mathematics, and metaphysics, as well as Latin and Greek. Subsequently he read law for some length of time, but having an independent fortune, devoted himself for the most of his life to the care of the estate of Betchworth Castle, which he had purchased.2 The rest of his life, after his twenty-second year, he passed with his family as a country gentleman. Mr. Tucker seems to have been as methodical in his manner of life as he was loose in his literary style. He always rose early in the morning, says his biographer, to pursue his literary labours. After breakfast he turned again to the pursuit for two or three hours, and passed the remainder of the morning in some moral exercise. In the winter he passed some months in town; and “when no inducement presented itself, he would sometimes walk from Great James Street, where he resided, to St. Paul’s or to the Bank, to see, as hewouldgood-humouredlyobserve,whatitwaso’clock”[I.xviii].Without commenting upon Mr. Tucker’s sense of humour, one may say a good deal for his virtues both public and domestic. After the death of his wife, he collected all the correspondence that had passed between them at periods when they were accidentally separated, and transcribed them twice over under the title of the “Picture of Artless Love.”3 Tucker’s style has all the virtues and the faults of a man of intellectual interests but no great intellectual power, a man whose provincial garrulity [ 137 [Ethics in Tucker’s The Light of Nature Pursued] and discursiveness had never been chastened by direct contact with firstrate minds. I do not know what men of note he came in contact with; he was acquainted I suppose with most of the philosophical literature of the time; [he] refers to Hartley, but always (so far as I have read) in connection with physiological hypotheses; to Berkeley with complete contempt (Berkeley’s ethical theories he does not mention); to Hume (so far as I have read) not at all; to Wollaston once; and everywhere, of course, to Locke, whom he follows almost always and whom he dissents from only with the most elaborate apologies and explanations.4 The Light of Nature Pursued, his chief work, he began about 1756; he published four octavo volumes in 1765. The work is very diffuse and incoherent: discourses of psychology, ethics, practical morality and ethics, theology, homiletics, cosmology, logic, physiology; and one of the longest chapters is a whimsical account of a vision in which he is transported into the vehicular state, through which he is conducted by the soul of John Locke, and which discloses a cosmological scheme which appears intended as a sort of Platonic myth.5 The book however has merits and points of interest quite apart from its curiosity. Tucker is a thoroughgoing psychological and ethical hedonist. His chapter on Pleasure is in the middle of volume II, while his chapter on Satisfaction is in the middle of volume I; while there are two chapters on Motives in volume II and another in volume I–but I will do my best to piece the parts together. “Pleasure seems at first sight to bid the fairest for being that ingredient which gives weight to our motives, and we find by experience in multitudes of instances that it proves a sufficient inducement with us to act” (I.97). But, he says “if we understand the term as it is commonly understood, we shall find pleasure often insufficient...