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214 9 The Path toward Non-Cognitivism Locke’s Desire and Shaftesbury’s Sentiment Beginning with the early Enlightenment, particularly in the writings of Locke, Mandeville, and Montesquieu, and culminating in the hybridization of moral and economic theory in Francis Hutcheson, Smith, Ferguson, John Millar, and James Steuart, we can observe a strategic shift in social theory that promises, if not to­ remedy, then at least to contain the apparent irrationality of the Hobbesian will. As C. B. Macpherson argued some time ago, Hobbes himself had already hinted at such a shift inasmuch as his concept of “possessive individualism” appeared to find its natural complement in a free market system of some kind or other.1 Yet the major shift arguably occurs after Hobbes, as a new generation of intellectuals replaces his bleak view of human agency with a meliorist conception of individual and com­ munal flourishing mediated above all by economic behavior. It thus cannot surprise that after Hobbes’s extreme voluntarism, the concept of the will should have rapidly faded from moral philosophy. Hobbes’s troubling bequest to his successors had been a model of human agents determined by blind and unself-conscious compulsion, itself the offshoot of a mechanistic theory of life as sheer tropism triggered by contin1 . Macpherson, Political Theory, 53–70. The Path Toward Non-Cognitivism 215 gent objects of desire. Such a framework offered no “openings” of any kind, no possibility of self-transcendence, let alone of a gradual ascent toward knowledge and an inner ordering of moral agents by means of focused and deliberate habituation. There is very little in Hobbes to suggest that social processes (education in particular ) could ever counteract the rigid inner determinacy of human agents. The question that came to preoccupy post-Hobbesian thought was how to recover the potential for moral and spiritual flourishing in the wake of Hobbes’s uncompromising assault on teleological and Christian-Platonic models of human agency. Beginning in James Harrington’s writings and continuing all the way through Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, it is clear that the only way to answer Hobbes was by reclaiming the inner life of the person as an authentic and significant source of moral reflection and responsible action. Yet this prolonged effort at rehabilitating reason as something more than mere calculation—indeed, as substantially free— comes with two significant qualifications. First, reason is no longer juxtaposed to the will but, rather to the passions. Second, thinkers from James Harrington and Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, to Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant replace the Aristotelian-Thomist dialectic that had posited the will in a necessary relation with the intellect with an empirical antagonism between selfish passions and rational interests. While this change of basic focus and guiding concepts was to produce significant complications of its own (some of them still bedeviling humanistic inquiry today), it did at least have the advantage of dramatically expanding the intellectual and social constituencies that could reasonably be expected to participate in such debates to begin with. Thus, in contrast to the civic republicanism of James Harrington and Algernon Sidney that directed its post-Hobbesian arguments to a narrow political elite, moral philosophers and essayists of early Georgian England— mindful that an overly interventionist take on scribere est agere might lead to much unpleasantness—no longer treat social, economic, and moral theory as a proxy for strident political claims.2 Rather, the focus of writing shifts from political controversy to more mediated accounts of social, religious, and cultural processes, with quasi-forensic attention being brought to bear on the affective sources of moral and social action. The intent here is descriptive rather than normative, and the new­ rhetoric—being directed at a broad, mobile, and amorphous readership rather than political elites—presents us with sustained psychological analyses rather than explicit controversy. 2. In lieu of a missing second witness needed to secure Algernon Sidney’s conviction for high treason, the prosecution presented (and selectively quoted from) a copy of his Discourses Concerning Government (written in 1680, though not published until 1698), which the presiding judge accepted , ruling that “to write is to act.” His conviction having been thus secured, Sidney was executed on 7 December 1683. 216 progressive amnesia Against the backdrop of a widespread retreat from all-or-nothing political partisanship , the elemental conflicts of late seventeenth-century politics are supplanted by a new brand of philosophy that abandons the peremptory style of deductive argument from first principles in favor of...


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