The Elements of Moral Science (1835, 1856 ed.)

Francis Wayland








B O S T O N :
G O U L D   A N D   L I N C O L N.




Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1835,


District Clerk’s Office of the District Court of Rhode Island


IN presenting to the public a new treatise upon Moral Science, it may not be improper to state the circumstances which led to the undertaking, and the design which it is intended to accomplish.

When it became my duty to instruct in Moral Philosophy, in Brown University, the text-book in use was the work of Dr. Paley. From many of his principles I found myself compelled to dissent, and, at first, I contented myself with stating to my classes my objections to the author, and offering my views, in the form of familiar conversations, upon several of the topics which he discusses. These views, for my own convenience, I soon committed to paper, and delivered, in the form of lectures. In a few years, these lectures had become so far extended, that, to my surprise, they contained, by themselves, the elements of a different system from that of the text-book which I was teaching. To avoid the inconvenience of teaching two different systems, I undertook to reduce them to order, and to make such additions, as would render the work in some measure complete within itself. I thus relinquished the work of Dr. Paley, and, for some time, have been in the habit of instructing solely by lecture. The success of the attempt exceeded my expectations, and encouraged me to hope, that the publication of what I had delivered to my classes, might, in some small degree, facilitate the study of moral science.

From these circumstances the work has derived its character. Being designed for the purposes of instruction, its aim is, to be simple, clear, and purely didactic. I have rarely gone into extended discussion, but have contented myself with the attempt to state the moral law, and the reason of it, in as few and as comprehensive terms as possible. The illustration of the principles, and the application of them to cases in ordinary life, I have generally left to the instructor, or to the student himself. Hence, also, I have omitted every thing which relates to the history of opinions, and have made but little allusion even to the opinions themselves, of those from whom I dissent. To have acted otherwise, would have extended the undertaking greatly beyond the limits which I had assigned to myself; and it seemed to me not to belong to the design which I had in view. A work which should attempt to exhibit what was true, appeared to me more desirable than one which should point out what was exploded, discuss what was doubtful, or disprove what was false.

In the course of the work, I have quoted but few authorities, as, in preparing it, I have referred to but few books. I make this remark in no manner for the sake of laying claim to originality, but to avoid the imputation of using the labors of others without acknowledgment When I commenced the undertaking, I attempted to read extensively, but soon found it so difficult to arrive at any definite results, in this manner, that the necessities of my situation obliged me to rely upon my own reflection. That I have thus come to the same conclusions with many others, I should be unwilling to doubt. When this coincidence of opinion has come to my knowledge, I have mentioned it. When it is not mentioned, it is because I have not known it.

The author to whom I am under the greatest obligations is Bishop Butler. The chapter on Conscience is, as I suppose, but little more than a development of his ideas on the same subject. How much more I owe to this incomparable writer, I know not. As it was the study of his sermons on human nature, that first turned my attention to this subject, there are, doubtless, many trains of thought which I have derived from him, but which I have not been able to trace to their source, as they have long since become incorporated with my own reflections. The article on the Sabbath, as is stated in the text, is derived chiefly from the tract of Mr. J. J. Gurney, on the same subject. Entertaining those views of the Sacred Scriptures, which I have expressed in the work itself, it is scarcely necessary to add here, that I consider them the great source of moral truth; and that a system of ethics will be true, just in proportion as it develops their meaning. To do this has been my object; and to have, in ever so humble a manner, accomplished it, I shall consider as the greatest possible success.

It is not without much diffidence, that I have ventured to lay before the public a work on this important subject That something of this sort was needed, has long been universally confessed. My professional duty led me to undertake it; and I trust that the hope of usefulness has induced me to prepare it for publication. If I have not been so happy as to elucidate truth, I have endeavored to express myself in such a manner, that the reader shall have as little trouble as possible in detecting my errors. And if it shall be found, that I have thrown any light whatever upon the science of human duty, I shall have unspeakable cause for gratitude to that Spirit, whose inspiration alone teacheth man understanding. And my cause for gratitude will scarcely be less, should my failure incite some one, better able than myself to do justice to the subject to a more successful undertaking.


Preface to the Second Edition

A SECOND edition of the Elements of Moral Science having been demanded, within a much shorter period than was anticipated, I have given to the revisal of it all the attention which my avocations have permitted.

The first edition, owing to circumstances which could not be foreseen, was, unfortunately, in several places, inaccurate in typographical execution. I have endeavored, I hope with better success, to render the present edition, in this respect, less liable to censure. In a few cases, single words and modes of expression have also been changed. I have, however, confined myself to verbal corrections, and have, in no case that I remember, intentionally altered the sense.

Having understood that the work has been introduced, as a text-book, into some of our highest seminaries of education, I hope that I may be forgiven, if I suggest a few hints as to the manner in which I suppose it May be most successfully used for this purpose.

1. In the recitation room, let neither instructor nor pupil ever make use of the book.

2. Let the portion previously assigned for the exercise, be so mastered by the pupil, both in plan and illustration, that he will be able to recite it in order, and explain the connection of the different parts with each other, without the necessity of assistance from his instructor. To give the language of the author is not, of course, desirable. It is sufficient if the idea be given. The questions of the instructor should have respect to principles that may be deduced from the text, practical application of the doctrines, objections which may be raised, etc.

3. Let the lesson which was recited on one day, be invariably reviewed on the day succeeding.

4. As soon as any considerable progress has been made in the work, let a review from the beginning be commenced. This should comprehend for one exercise, as much as had been previously recited in two or three days; and should be confined to a brief analysis of the argument, with a mere mention of the illustrations.

5. As soon as the whole portion thus far recited, has been reviewed, let a new review be commenced, and continued in the same manner; and thus on successively, until the work is completed. By pursuing this method, a class will, at any period of the course of study, be enabled, with the slightest effort, to recall whatever they have already acquired; and when the work is completed, they will be able to pursue the whole thread of the argument, from the beginning to the end; and thus to retain a knowledge, not only of the individual principles, but also of their relations to each other.

But the advantage of this mode of study is not confined to that of a more perfect knowledge of this or of any other book. By presenting the whole field of thought at one view before the mind, it will cultivate the power of pursuing an extended range of argument; of examining and deciding upon a connected chain of reasoning; and will, in no small degree, accustom the student to carry forward in his own mind a train of original investigation.

I have been emboldened to make these suggestions, not in the least because I suppose the present work worthy of any peculiar attention from an instructor, but simply because, having been long in the habit of pursuing this method, and having witnessed its results in my own classes, I have thought it my duty to suggest it to those who are engaged in the same profession with myself. Other instructors may have succeeded better with other methods. I have succeeded best with this.

At the suggestion of some of his friends, the author has it in contemplation to prepare a small abridgment of the present work, in duodecimo, for the use of schools and academies. It will be published as soon as his engagements will permit.

BROWN UNIVERSITY, September, 1835.

Preface to the Fourth Edition

THE publishers having thought proper to give to the Elements of Moral Science a more permanent form, I have revised the work with all the care that my engagements would allow. In doing this, I have made many verbal alterations; I have modified some paragraphs; some I have transposed, and a few I have added.

I embrace, with pleasure, this opportunity of returning my grateful acknowledgments to those gentlemen who, either privately or through the medium of the press, have favored me with their critical remarks. I have endeavored to weigh their suggestions with all the impartiality in my power. Where I have been convinced of error, I have altered the text. Where I have only doubted, I have suffered it to remain; as it seemed profitless merely to exchange one doubtful opinion for another. Where, notwithstanding the arguments advanced, my views remained unchanged, I have also contented myself with allowing the text to stand without additional remark. The reasons for so doing may be very briefly stated: I supposed that those considerations in favor of what I had advanced, which occurred to me, would naturally occur to any other person; and I seem to myself to have observed that the public really take very little interest in the controversies of authors. A very considerable amount of manuscript, which I had prepared for the purpose of publication, in connection with this edition, I have therefore suffered to lie quietly in my desk.