Monday, November 14, 2016

Whewell on Order

One of the unusual features of Whewell's moral philosophy is the emphasis he places on law. Whewell sees law as an essential part of moral life, and one of the major mechanisms by which moral progress is possible. As he puts it, "Laws are Moral Rules, clothed in an actual historical form" (EM §246). It is in the field of law that we most consistently run up against well defined moral cases against which we can test our moral principles, and it is often in law that we spend the most time and care in refinement of our conceptions. The latter is a major element of Whewell's notion of progress in any field, and moral philosophy is no exception. It is for precisely this reason that Whewell pays so much attention to the moral terms people use: "The Vocabulary of Virtues and Vices is a constant moral Lesson; perpetually operating to bring each man's moral sentiments into agreement with the general judgment of men" (EM §158). This is also the significant foundation for the role of the Idea of Order, regard for law, in his system (EM § 122):

Again; the Supreme Law of Human Action, in order to operate effectively upon men's minds, must be distinctly and definitely conceived, at least in some of its parts and applications. But all distinct and definite conceptions of Laws of Human Action must involve a reference to the relations which positive Laws establish. Hence Moral Rules, in order to be distinct and definite, must depend upon Laws; and must suppose Laws to be fixed and permanent. It is our Duty to promote, by our acts, this fixity and permanence: and the Duty, of course, extends to our internal actions, to Will, Intention, Desire and Affection, as well as to external act. We must conform our Dispositions to the Laws; obey the Laws cordially, or administer them carefully, according to the position we may happen to hold in the community. This disposition may be denoted by the term Order, understood in a large and comprehensive sense.

This Idea extends beyond laws as we normally think of them -- Whewell, for instance, says that it also extends to "subordinate moral Rules" -- but he generally puts it in terms of law, and this gives us the characteristic maxim for the Idea of Order, "We must accept positive laws as the necessary conditions of Morality."

The subjective disposition related to the Idea of Order is the most reason-oriented of Whewell's Virtues, because it is concerned entirely with the articulation and recognition of stable principles. Orderliness or Obedience is a virtue of respect for practical abstractions, and its associated virtues he often characterizes as Intellectual Virtues. Prudence is concerned with selection of means to these abstract ends. It requires Attention, Forecast, and Presence of Mind. Wisdom, "the complete Idea of Intellectual Excellence" (EM §152), includes selection of right ends. Love of Truth is also associated with Order. Other kinds of virtues associated with the Virtue of Order are those concerned with recognizing how others will view us (e.g., Honour), or with restraining ourselves to follow rules (e.g., Self-watchfulness).

Applying the Principle of Order gives us a wide variety of duties, diversified according to our various social roles that are relevant to law and custom. For every kind of submission to authority that may be required, there are corresponding Duties of Obedience. But for these to be moral rather than simply imitation, these duties must be carried out with an internal disposition characterizable by the Idea of Order, and this is the Spirit of Obedience, which we thus also have a duty to inculcate. Thus we should obey the laws and customs of our society in general, diverging only where we can clearly show that they deviate from the Idea of Morality (composed of the five Ideas, including Order); where a law can be interpreted in more than one interpretation, we have a duty to interpret it in the way most in conformity with moral principle; where law is concerned with equity and does not involve mere matters of arbitrary convenience, we have a duty to interpret according to the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

However, Order is not only about obeying; it is also about governing, and therefore creates Duties of Command. Since Order gives moral meaning to one's roles, it follows that anyone in an office of government authority has a moral duty to treat this office as a moral trust, and act as a public representative of the moral character of the State (EM §236). Authorities must give their actions and the laws a moral character. In addition, they should act in such a way as to keep the laws and customs of the society as stable as they practicably can be, so as to preserve their usefulness for moral life, which Whewell calls the Political Duty of Conservation (EM §237). On their other hand, the authority must also uphold the Political Duty of Progress, altering the laws when doing so will clearly make them better for moral purposes.

In addition, all the Intellectual Virtues come into play: government must proceed by Prudence, Wisdom, Consideration and Inquiry. We have a duty to act rationally; this is not always the same as acting rightly, since error is unavoidable, but reason must be used as well as it can be to avoid such error. This includes a duty to act according to rule, and not merely on arbitrary whim. All of this also tells us that we have a duty to cultivate ourselves intellectually as well as morally. Since Whewell regards the State as a moral agent, it also, of course, has Duties of Order. Part of this, beyond what has so far been noted, is a respect for moral law and of God as governor of the world.

As in other cases, the addition of Christianity intensifies and incentivizes these duties, and particularly the duty of obedience to God. One important feature of this is the explicit recognition of conscience itself as a law willed by God as revealed by the coming of Christ. Related to these is our duty of "Mutual Instruction in Religion" (EM §598). Order also creates duties to the Church as well as to the State; Christians have the duty of obedience to the laws and rules by which the Church specifies its institutions.

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