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Hume Studies Volume XXV, Numbers 1 and 2, April/November 1999, pp. 207-224 Critical Study J. B. Schneewind's The Invention of Autonomy JOHN MARSHALL J. B. SCHNEEWIND. The Invention of Autonomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. xxii + 624. ISBN 0-521-47399-3, $69.95, cloth; ISBN 0521 -47938-X, $26.95, paper. In J. B. Schneewind's The Invention of Autonomy we are given a monumental history of moral philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a history more comprehensive and richer in detail than one would have thought possible in a single volume. Though the daunting erudition, agreeably unobtrusive , inspires confidence, it is Schneewind's gift of narrative that makes his book such a pleasure and his story so compelling. Schneewind originally conceived the book, he tells us, to "broaden our historical comprehension of Kant's moral philosophy by relating it to the earlier work to which it was a response" (3), but he does much, much more as he charts the fitful transition from morality as obedience to the later and now widely accepted conception of morality as self-governance. In its broad outline, the story is familiar, beginning with Montaigne's skepticism, moving through modern natural law theory , rationalist, perfectionist, and moral sense responses and ending with Bentham and Kant. But Schneewind adds to acute and deeply informed discussions of Hobbes, Locke, Clarke, Hume, and Kant, clear, often arresting summaries , in varying degrees of detail, of Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Machiavelli, Suarez, Charron, Grotius, Cumberland, Pufendorf, Thomasius, DuVair, Justus Lipsius, Herbert of Cherbury, Descartes, Gassendi, Whichcote, John Smith, More, Cudworth, Spinoza, Leibniz, Barbeyrac, Malebranche, Nicole, Bayle, Harrington, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Butler, Price, Adam Smith, Reid, Paley, Hartley, Helvetius, d'Holbach, Bentham, de Sade, Wolff, Crusius, Voltaire, La John Marshall is at the Department of Philosophy, 512 Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22901, USA. e-mail: ems5h@virginia.edu 208 Book Reviews Mettrie, Diderot, Rousseau, and others. If, as no doubt they will, some readers will fault some of Schneewind's interpretations, none will fail to admire his achievement in ferreting out and combining in such a fascinating narrative the leading ideas of this host of thinkers. It is safe to predict, moreover, that this study will inspire others to explore some of these less-read authors and to produce more fine-grained monographs, and further to deepen our understanding of the period and of the way we have come to think of ourselves. This, as I said, is a monumental work. The best I can hope for in a short review is to outline its main themes to give some sense of what an absorbing book it is. I hasten to add that it is Schneewind's history I seek to outline, not some history of my own, which, in any case, I would disclaim on all too many points any competence to write. I can only hope that the impression this outline leaves is accurate. I begin with some background, starting with Aquinas. Aquinas took moral virtue to be obedience to law written in conscience; the first law being to seek good and avoid evil, and other natural laws spelling out the necessary means to our true good—social harmony and union with God. Thus are understood the love commandment and the Decalogue. Since Aquinas held also that to will is to seek the apparent good, he could lay the blame for practical error only on ignorance and thereby, according to his critics, made sin impossible. To make sin possible, Duns Scotus thought it necessary to argue that in God will is more noble than intellect, that only the love commandment can be derived from God's nature and that the Decalogue expresses the divine will, a will that is incomprehensible to us. In this radical voluntarism, Scotus sought not only to make room for sin but also to preserve God's omnipotence. In these aims he was followed by Luther and Calvin. Still, all parties agreed that to be moral was to be obedient to God's commands. But here consensus ended and sectarian squabbling and attendant social and political conflict began, creating a moral and intellectual climate congenial to skepticism, which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 207-224
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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