Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The Purest Fountains of Natural Reason

We may say that the Morals of this Philosopher are infinitely Sublime, but at the same time, pure, sensible, and drawn from the purest Fountains of Natural Reason. Certainly, a Reason destitute of the Lights of Divine Revelation, has never appear’d with so much Illumination and Power. And as there is not any Duty omitted by Confucius, so there is not any besides those here mentioned. He greatly extends his Morals, but not farther than needs must; his Judgment ever telling him how far he must go, and where he must stop. In which he has a very considerable Advantage, not only over a great number of Pagan Writers, that have Treated of Things of this Nature, but likewise over several Christian Authors, who abound with so many false, or over-subtil Thoughts; who almost every where surpass the Bounds of their Duty, and who give themselves up to their own Fancy, or ill Humour; who almost always digress from that just Mean, where Virtue ought to be plac'd; who, by their false Pourtraitures do render it impossible to our Practice, and consequently make few Virtuous Men....

...Every Thing herein is Solid; because that right Reason, that inward Verity, which is implanted in the Soul of all Men, and which our Philosopher incessantly Consulted without Prejudice, guided all his Words. Thus the Rules which he Prescribes, and the Duties to which he Exhorts, are such, that there is no Person which does not immediately give his Approbation thereunto. There is nothing of Falsity in his Reasonings, nothing Extream, none of those frightful Subtilties, which are observ'd in the Moral Treatises of most Modern Metaphysicians, that is to say, in Discourses where Simplicity, Clearness, and Perspicuity ought to prevail throughout, and make itself Sensible to Minds of the lowest Rank.

From The Morals of Confucius, a Chinese Philosopher. This book, originally published in 1691, is an English translation of an earlier French work generally attributed to Jean de Labrune (a French Protestant minister better known for his historical works, who died in 1743), and somewhat more probably attributed to Louis Cousin (a royal censor through whose hands a number of Confucius-related works, including the Sinarum Philosophus, which is the Latin translation of Confucian texts on which this book is based), but in reality we just don't know who wrote it. The particular examples of moral treatises of 'Modern Metaphysicians' that the author has in mind when he talks about "frightful Subtilties" are Nicole's Essay on Morals and Malebranche's Treatise on Morals.

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