Ethics and Socialism: Tensions in the Political Philosophy of J. G. Schurman
Burns, Steven A. M., Journal of Canadian Studies
Ethics and Socialism: Tensions in the Political Philosophy of J.S. Schurman
This paper examines the political theory of the Canadian philosopher, Jacob Gould Schurman, based especially on his work, A Series of Ten Lectures on Ethics. Schurman's Prince Edward Island roots and his convictions about Canadian autonomy helped to guide his influential assessments of the Philippines (after the American take - over in 1898) and the Balkans (just before the 1914 - 18 war). Schurman's writings on socialism, however, have not been examined, even though the contemporary socialist movement constituted a serious challenge to his position. This paper argues that his criticism of socialism is grounded in his ethical theory, but that his account of what good is salvageable from its doctrines exposes a conflict in his own thought.
Jaeob Gould Schurman (1854 - 1942) was a Canadian philosopher of considerable distinction. He well deserves the chapter which Leslie Armour and Elizabeth Trott devote to him in their history of English - Canadian philosophy.(f.1) As he is otherwise not widely remembered, a sketch of his life will serve to introduce the man himself to those readers who do not know of him as well as to introduce the political principles which are my main topic.
Schurman's most significant contribution to philosophy is his work on evolutionary theory, and his attempt to embrace the new science without losing his grip on the foundations of ethics. In biographical terms, this Maritime Baptist strove for the greatest openness to new discoveries and the wider world while remaining true to the principles of his Canadian upbringing. This led to valuable innovations in his work on Darwin and Kant, but a similar confrontation with socialist politics after he had emigrated to the United States led to difficulties in his political philosophy. The central aim of this paper is to examine his writings on socialism in the context of his ethical thought. A primary tool in this examination is the book, A Series of Ten Lectures on Ethics, a work of Schurman's not noted in the standard bibliographies but important for the way in which it integrates his thought in ethics and in political theory. A subsidiary theme is that his Canadian and European education rendered him an awkward, if enthusiastic American in his later years.
Jacob Gould Schurman was born on Prince Edward Island and died in New York City after an influential career in philosophy and public service. His great - grand - parents, of Dutch descent, were prominent citizens of the state of New York and they moved to Canada as United Empire Loyalists during the American Revolution. Schurman was born in 1854, the third of eight children of Robert and Lydia (Gouldrup) Schurman, who were farmers at Freetown, Prince Edward Island. Named Jacob, he later took a contraction of his mother's maiden name as his middle name, and was called Gould by relatives and friends.(f.2)
Gould Schurman was destined to complete a cycle; at 32 he left the newly independent Canada and moved to New York state, attaining considerable influence at the heart of the new American empire. He was the longest - serving and arguably the most successful of Cornell University's presidents, and served in various capacities as an adviser to presidents of the USA, including McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, Coolidge and F.D. Roosevelt. He presided over the Philippine Commission of 1899, was the United States' Minister to Greece (1912 - 13) and to China (1920 - 25), and US Ambassador to Germany (1925 - 29). He continued to travel and lecture in retirement, and was 88 when he died of a heart attack in 1942. He was buried in St. Matthew's Church cemetery, Bedford, NY. A national monument to him has been erected in Freetown, PEI.
The route he travelled was not an easy one. Scholarships played the key role. Educated in a one - room school, he left the family farm at 13 to work in a Summerside store. He eventually saved $80, which enabled him to attend the Summerside Grammar School for a year. There he won a scholarship paying two years' tuition and board at Prince of Wales College (now incorporated in the University of PEI), in Charlottetown. In later life he said: "The scholarship I had won amounted to only sixty dollars a year. It seems little enough, but I can say now, after nearly thirty years, that the winning of it was the greatest success I have ever had. I have had other rewards, which, to most persons, would seem immeasurably greater, but with this difference: that first success was essential; without it I could not have gone on. The others I could have done without, if it had been necessary."(f.3)
In 1874, after leading his class during two years of studies at Acadia College (now University) in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, he won the Gilchrist Scholarship for study at the University of London in a nationwide competitive examination. A long "Letter from London" is published in the December 1875 edition of the Acadia student newspaper, The Athenaeum. Schurman is enthusiastic and open - eyed about the wider world. He comments on the way the traits of the English mind (strength and solidity, rather than beauty or grace) are manifested in their architecture, and on the way in which Christian missionary work in Africa has resulted not only in educational benefits for Africans but also in increased trade. While completing a BA at University College, London, studying among other things political economy with William Stanley Jevons, he visited the London seminary known as Manchester New College to hear lectures on philosophy and religion by James Martineau,(f.4) who served from 1840 to 1885 as its Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy. Martineau had been refused the chair of Philosophy of Mind and Logic at University College, London because he was a clergyman, but it was his religious as well as philosophical outlook which led Schurman to seek him out - confirming as one of his own philosophical preoccupations the tension between the religion of his youth and the new learning coming especially from the biological sciences and from anthropological confrontation with the variety of human cultures. Schurman had already come a long way from the prayers and sermons he gave at Baptist revival meetings during the preceding summers, but he was not about to abandon his religious convictions. He credits Martineau with resolving some of his doubts about the conflict between natural science and religion.
Schurman's mature resolution of this conflict took the form of what he called evolutionary and scientific ethics. He paid close attention to the varied mores of cultures from different times and circumstances. A striking feature of his writing on ethics is his fluent grasp of the various results of contemporary studies, whether of suicide rates in Austria or marriage customs among the Aboriginal people of Australia. At one point in his second book, The Ethical Import of Darwinism, he cites a missionary's report of cheerful promiscuity among the people of Aneityum in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu).(f.5) Martineau, who wrote him at length about the book, objects:
The revolting facts attested by your missionary friend are in no sense moral, or immoral, facts at all, any more than the corresponding habits in quadrupeds: they are examples simply of the uncontested sway of instinct, prior to the restraints imposed by affection and insight possible only to an ulterior state of social relations and personal development. To reckon such phenomena among "moral facts," and to turn the moralist in among them to learn his lesson, is a form of teaching too strongly flavoured with "modern thought," to be palatable to my old - fashioned metaphysical taste. Yet I believe in Evolution: only, there are a good many things still that cannot be learned from it.(f.6)
A sympathetic reading of Schurman will show that he is indeed too modern for Martineau, and does treat such facts as evidence, for example, that our idea of the family "cannot be considered a part of the content of the moral law universal." He adds, "This seems to me a result of considerable importance for moral philosophy."(f.7) And if moral philosophy is open to influence from the facts of anthropology, then other philosophical claims are also corrigible on the same basis. For Schurman, the claim by Martineau that New Hebridean promiscuity is an example of the uncontested sway of instinct derives from a particular view of the state of nature. Rousseau, in contrast, wrote as though he thought such freedom from the trammels of civility was a good as well as a natural thing. Schurman first offers a logical argument against Martineau's view: if we conceive of the state of nature as Hobbes's "war of all against all," then it is almost inconceivable that men, fighting one another for possessions, would have treated women as goods to be shared. Either the New Hebrideans are not in a state of nature after all, or the state of nature is already moral in complex ways that Martineau denies. Schurman also considers purely empirical arguments; thus, Martineau's view can be challenged by other anthropological facts. It can even be challenged by other biological facts, and here Schurman quotes Darwin: "We may indeed conclude from what we know of the jealousy of all male quadrupeds, that promiscuous intercourse in a state of nature is extremely improbable.... Therefore, looking far enough back in the stream of time, and judging from the social habits of man as he now exists, the most probable view is that he aboriginally lived in small communities, each with a single wife, or if powerful with several, whom he jealously guarded against all other men."(f.8) Schurman concludes that a scientific ethic shows that monogamy, while it is the most universal (and perhaps the highest) form of sexual relations, is not the only ethical form of sexual practice.
In his studies in London, Schurman tells us, he was "first prizeman in all the classes of Logic, Philosophy, and Political Economy."(f.9) He won further scholarships, and spent a year at the University of Edinburgh where he successfully presented a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Science (earned with Distinction). At this point he declined an invitation to return to Acadia to teach. Martineau put him forward as a candidate for a Hibbert Travelling Fellowship. Among the more than 60 nominees he and his good friend Andrew Seth (later A.S. Pringle - Pattison, who also became a distinguished philosopher) were the winners of this most prestigious of British awards. He was free to travel and study in Europe for two years. Most of the time Schurman studied German philosophy, first at Heidelberg with Kuno Fischer, then with Eduard Zeller at Berlin, and at Gottingen. He was to keep up his interest in German research as long as he was active in philosophy; he corresponded for instance with Vaihinger, and wrote summaries of German journal articles for the Philosophical Review while he was its editor.
After these two years in Germany, Schurman accepted a professorship of English Literature, Logic and Political Economy at Acadia. Young, enthusiastic and an excellent teacher, he introduced to the Acadia curriculum a course in English Language and Literature, and made it a popular study. It was at this time that his first book, a critique of both Kantian ethics and ethics derived from evolutionary theory, was published.(f.10) He dismisses Mill's utilitarianism as a spent force, and discusses Kant's doctrine and Spencer's Darwinism as the two theories to be reckoned with. In sharing Spencer's admiration for the advances of science while rejecting his failure to recognise human moral capacity, he sets himself against "right - wing" naturalism. In praising Kant's theory of autonomy while giving a subtle account of its incompatibility with the first Critique he identifies theory of free will as the area where advances need to be made by contemporary philosophy. Until this time Schurman's primary influences had been Canadian and European. Now he travelled to the United States to pursue research, and came in contact with George Munro, a critical figure in Schurman's career.
George Munro was a Nova Scotian who made a fortune in New York as the publisher of the Fireside Companion series of inexpensively reprinted (dime) novels. He acted as an agent for British publishers, but the opinion spread that he "grew rich by depriving English authors of their rights by the unauthorized reprinting of their works."(f.11) In fact the authors had no recognized legal rights at the time, and Munro's activities contributed to the campaign to establish copyright laws. Enough of his fortune ended up at Dalhousie University that a Munro Day now serves as that institution's "founders" day. Although established in 1818, Dalhousie was still in very poor shape in 1879 when Munro returned to visit Halifax, where his brother - in - law, the Rev. John Forrest, was its president. Forrest persuaded Munro to endow professorial chairs; one of them was a chair of English Literature and Rhetoric, for which Munro offered a salary of $2,000 (a rate "unheard of in Maritime institutions"(f.12)), and according to the Dalhousie Board of Governors' minutes "nominating Dr. J. Gould Schurman to the Professorship thereof."(f.13) The same donor's prerogative accompanied other endowed chairs; in 1884 the minutes record that Munro was "willing to endow a chair called the George Munro Chair of Metaphysics ... and would recommend Professor Schurman to that Chair provided the Governors appoint Doctor [W. J.] Alexander to the Chair of English Literature." After a brief discussion of Alexander's credentials the governors accepted.
It was in October of the same year that Schurman married the president's niece, and his benefactor's daughter, Barbara Forrest Munro (1865 - 1930). The marriage seems to have been as successful as Schurman's other endeavours, but I cannot cite Barbara's opinion. She bore eight children, only one of whom died in infancy. The first child was born in New York while Schurman was finishing his final term at Dalhousie, and the second in Halifax on 22 August 1887, the same day that Schurman, at Cornell, signed the preface of and thus completed his second book.(f.14) Meanwhile, Schurman had applied unsuccessfully for at least one university post in Britain, but the larger stage for which he felt destined was to be in the USA.
Schurman was not idle during his years at Dalhousie. He worked on his second book, and he continued to be a teacher abreast of his times, bringing modern ideas to bear on institutions in need of development. Evidence of his political sympathies is found in the manuscript which he began on the history of Dalhousie College. Lord Dalhousie was a Scot whose administration of Nova Scotia was notably progressive. He founded the new college intending that its benefits "be distributed to every class of society," that it should be "open to all classes of this community, and that no tests of any kind [in particular, no religious tests] are to (be) allowed."(f.15) Schurman approves of the idea of such a "people's college," and thinks of it in evolutionary terms as an advanced notion.
T]he idea represented by Dalhousie was in advance of the culture of the time. That generation could understand a college founded and supported by the Government for a privileged class who monopolized all the frontiers in church and state; and it could also understand schools supported by denominations mainly for the education of their ministers; but it had not that breadth of view required for the appreciation of a college, neither for a class nor for a sect, but for the people as a people.... Dalhousie could not take root in such a barren soil.(f.16)
No doubt Schurman had Acadia in mind as his sectarian model (though it must be said that the Baptist founders of Acadia were proud of their non - sectarian principles); and certainly he considered King's College (at that time still in Windsor, Nova Scotia) as the college of the privileged class. Though it had only four students in 1834, all attempts to get King's to move to Halifax and merge with Dalhousie had failed, because all the governors were King's men. It will be noted that this Scottish view of the evils of the English class system has a decidedly American ring: "for the people as a people," as Schurman puts it. This is partly due to the extensive influence of Scottish moral and political thought on earlier generations in the USA, but it is also partly due to Schurman's bringing a North American consciousness to his formative studies in England, Scotland and Germany. He is, after all, an Island farm boy making his way up a social ladder on merit alone, and thus no friend of hereditary class - structured society. The principle that university education should benefit all classes of the people was upheld by Schurman consistently during his time at Cornell University, and his dedication to democratic principles remained central to his political thought. When he resigned from Dalhousie, the chorus of praise was fulsome: "In every regard and in the highest degree satisfactory," and so on.(f.17)
His appointment as Sage Professor of Ethics at Cornell took effect in 1886. He had been recommended by its president Andrew D. White and hand - picked by Henry Sage, lumber magnate and its most powerful trustee. Schurman successfully cultivated the friendship of Sage, who responded with generous funding for the Sage School of Philosophy (with Schurman appointed dean in 1891). Schurman produced results. He was among the most popular lecturers at Cornell, as he had been at Dalhousie and Acadia. Not much earlier, in 1876, the Johns Hopkins University had begun the first European - style graduate school in the USA, a place where serious research could go on; under Schurman, philosophy at Cornell also took this direction. He was the founding editor (in 1892) of the Philosophical Review, soon "the leading journal of general philosophy in America."(f.18) He also published two more books of philosophical essays, and several articles on Kant.(f.19) Post - graduate instruction developed at such a pace that within five years Cornell graduates held teaching positions in a score of universities and colleges, including California, Michigan, Northwestern, Brown and Colgate.
OFFICE - HOLDER(f.20)
This biographical sketch began with a survey of Schurman's later career in American politics. There remain a few gaps which are closely relevant to his transition from a European - educated Canadian to a loyal citizen of the United States. In 1891, a year before he became president of Cornell, Schurman took out American citizenship. However career - driven the decision may have been, he defended it on the general political grounds of liberty versus tyranny: "The 4th of July is the Sabbath of civil history," and the right date to choose to celebrate liberty from the "repeated injuries and usurpations of the transatlantic tyrant."(f.21) Not long before taking this step, however, he published an article in which he discussed the explicit American expectation of Canada's eventually joining the union of American states and in which he is vigorous in his defense of Canada's differences and advantages, history and prospects.(f.22) He argues here as elsewhere that larger geo - political considerations will force the USA and Canada towards common economic and foreign policies. Yet he is adamant that Canadians may well have a separate destiny, and above all that they must make such decisions for themselves. If this scion of a Loyalist family now embraced the Revolution, he did so not because everyone should wish to join the new and better empire, but rather in the spirit of the War of Independence and from commitment to the principle of national self - determination. He would soon find that many of his new compatriots no longer shared this spirit.
Schurman remained Cornell's president until 1925, spanning its transformation from a small college to a distinguished university. At the same time, he was developing a parallel career. After he offered President McKinley advice about Cuba and the Spanish - American War, McKinley offered him the presidency of the Philippines Commission. Taking a term off from Cornell, he sailed from Vancouver in January, 1899 to spend a very busy few months in the Philippines with his fellow commissioners. By September he was back giving his annual welcoming address to Cornell's students. Sometimes these occasions were singularly dull (his speech of 1895, for instance, concerned honesty and cleanliness: do not cheat, and take frequent cold showers); in 1899, however, he spoke about territorial expansion.(f.23) This was, in effect, the first of many forceful speeches on the subject of the Philippines, one of which was described as follows: "The effect upon his great audience was like magic. It was the most masterful address that I have heard...."(f.24) These speeches, like the commission report itself, argued against making the Philippines a colony of the USA. Unfortunately he failed to convince the president. In more private attempts to influence official policy he would propose more subtle policies, but always based on the principle that any rule imposed from without is undemocratic and unprogressive. In a letter to Henry Cabot Lodge, then a senator, he explains:
My Philippines policy is and has been, first, the pacification of the archipelago; secondly, the political organization, with representative institutions, of the civilized and Christianized inhabitants of Luzon, the Visayas, and the coast of Mindanao, and, thirdly, such ever - increasing measures of home - rule as the nation thus organized might demand, including independence when they wanted, and were reasonable fit for, independence.... Canada is pacified and has home - rule; is it more reasonable to think independence or enforced subjection to Great Britain the next step in her political development?(f.25)
Schurman's advice was not followed. Goldwin Smith, a colleague at Cornell and later a professor at the University of Toronto, was a highly respected influence on Schurman's political judgment. Schurman credits Smith with moral heroism for his defense of righteous but unpopular causes. "Did American jingoism grow intoxicated at the prospect of the Stars and Stripes in the Philippines? Goldwin Smith gravely reminded us that the issue was one of empire versus republic."(f.26) With moral courage of his own, Schurman promoted his views whenever he could, and in the face of both implacable government resistance and popular disapproval.
That these principles continued to be fundamental for him is demonstrated at many points in his diplomatic career. This is true of his years in China and Germany after his retirement from Cornell, but is best illustrated by his book The Balkan Wars. Schurman took leave from Cornell for the 1912 - 13 academic year to serve as American Minister to Greece and Montenegro. He travelled throughout the area, showing particular interest in the ethnic conflicts which, following the demise of the Yugoslavian compromise, are violently with us again. He writes with great observation and perspicacity of the various threads of national feeling - the racial types, the languages, territorial histories, religions and political customs - which complicated the Balkan situation. The penultimate sentence of the book perfectly captures Schurman's sensibilities: "For as an American I sympathize with the aspirations of all struggling nationalities to be free and independent."(f.27) As I read them, these are the sentiments of a transplanted Canadian deeply resistant to the imperialism of current American thought.
Schurman is a person whose creative thinking was done early in his career. By the time he became president of Cornell University in 1892, most of his convictions were well - formed and in print. I think that Schurman's early Island experience (he was 19 when PEI joined Confederation) was formative of his life - long respect for cultural differences and the principle of national autonomy.(f.28) His views on the relations between science and ethics were formed well before he moved to the USA. So, too, were his views on the relations between ethics and politics, and to a lesser extent his assessment of the theory and practice of socialism. Moreover, he did not apparently take up American philosophy. Although he read William James (and was read by him) he neither adopted nor contributed to Pragmatism. Despite his later theological essays he does not touch base with the transcendentalist movement; his targets were Huxley and Spencer. However, although his thought developed early he never did elaborate a full political philosophy. Armour and Trott sketch the situation this way:
In Kantian Ethics and the Ethics of Evolution, Schurman develops the outlines of a theory of the state.... Later in his work as a diplomat and in his historical investigations, Schurman was to encounter, again, the need to develop this theory of the state.... A theory can be pieced together ... but he was never able to find the time to put it together himself in the form of a philosophical study.(f.29)
The present essay is an attempt to put a few of those pieces together for the ultimate purpose of assessing the coherence of Schurman's political philosophy.
TEN LECTURES ON ETHICS
Since Schurman's best - known publication on socialism is an essay which dates from 1912, it may seem that we have an exception to my claim that his views were essentially developed by 1892. However, in 1892 a strange book was published, in which Schurman writes at length about socialism. The book is under his name, but does not appear in the usual bibliographies. Although typeset and hard - bound, it is in fact a second - hand transcription of a series of Schurman's lectures delivered at Leland Stanford Jr. University and entitled A Series of Ten Lectures on Ethics.(f.30) Stanford was opened in 1891 - 92, and Schurman visited in March ofthe university's inaugural year; he lectured on 10 successive days, and the chapel was packed every afternoon. Schurman expected this to be the first of a series of spring visits to Stanford, but by the end of the year he had been appointed president of Cornell and was obliged to break off the arrangement.(f.31)
The published lectures are described as "reported by Elsie H. Shelley," and carry the warning "Through the Kindness and Permission of the Author. (For use of Students only.)." Among these 10 lectures one entitled "Justice" deals predominantly with socialism. These 1892 lectures place his thoughts about political theory in a systematic ethical context. It is a popular context, to be sure; the lectures are clearly addressed to a general university audience. But it is systematic in the sense that he lays out, with their strengths and weaknesses quite visible, the whole range of his views on ethics, politics and religion.
Although typescripts of many of Schurman's lectures are preserved among his papers in the Cornell University Archives, there is no copy there of any of these Stanford lectures. He was renowned, however, as a lecturer who spoke extempore as though reading from a polished text, with every paragraph complete and asides under strict control. So it is likely that he lectured on this occasion from brief notes. The printed text is clearly uncorrected, containing lapses of grammar and spelling which he never permitted himself, and also betraying the reporter's occasional failures to understand what was being said. Elsie Shelley was not a philosopher. She was a physiology student at Stanford; she was class president in her graduating year (1894), and later married a Stanford professor of zoology. While enrolled there, she wrote President Jordan asking if there were shorthand, stenographic or amanuensis work with which she could help defray her expenses.(f.32) Clearly the Ten Lectures was produced from her shorthand transcription.
One notable feature of the series is that Schurman places the lecture on justice in an "applied ethics" context. After his introductory lecture there are five lectures on substantial meta - ethical topics. One is on conscience, one on the concept of obligation and a third on freedom of the will. The fourth and fifth are on the sum - mum bonum, a critique of hedonism (and of utilitarianism in particular) followed by adefense of a self - realisationist account of the good. Having thus set out his views on fundamental philosophical issues, he plunges into lectures on suicide and marriage. Then comes justice and a final lecture on religion. These latter four lectures have the form of applications of the initial lectures' theory, the establishing of conclusions about how one should live one's life. They are well - conceived to engage the interest of a student audience, and the lecture on justice, dwelling as it does on the great "social question" of the day, fits right in. Indeed, in his first lecture he makes this clear. The first part of the science of ethics is the gathering of facts, from the documents of philosophy, from the practices studied by anthropologists and historians and from our own experience. The second part is the generation of principles which explain these facts. "The third department into which I divide the science, is the practical part." Divorces are increasing in the United States of America. Should we set ourselves against this practice? "It is an ethical question, and a great one. Here is another practical question ... what is justice?" (5). But these questions are not, of course, included just to intrigue his audience. They are, as he says, a part of the science of ethics.
In his final chapter, on religion, Schurman gives a preview of the approach to "Spiritual Religion" which he will publish in 1896 as the third and final chapter of his last book of philosophy, Agnosticism and Religion. Two themes illustrate what we might describe as his evolutionary and progressive conservatism: he is conservative in holding to the Christian faith, progressive in arguing against ritualistic and dogmatic forms of it, and "evolutionary" in his claim that its emergence as humanity's highest form of religion gives a rational person a scientific basis for faith. The first of his themes is that there is an evolution in the history of attitudes to religion which is recapitulated in the life of the individual. First is the "childhood" stage of credulity, second the "youthful" stage of doubt caused by a conflict between old beliefs and new information. Then there is a third "adult" stage, from which one "is able to embrace all the achievements of science and reconcile them with the yearnings and aspirations of the human heart..." (80). Darwin himself, it should be noted, does not impute this embryological model to the history of human societies, but Schurman does confound "later" and "higher," as we saw earlier in his debate with Martineau about "ethical facts."
The second of the evolutionary themes is a sketch of the development of religions themselves. First, in early Christianity and in all "primitive" religions he identifies a non - dogmatic stage in which code and ritual are the essence of the religion. Then there is a dogmatic stage "with which we are all most familiar," and of which Calvinism and Catholicism are typical. But this is a stage which defies uniformity. Living religion gives birth to differentiation, and to differing creeds and dogmas. Schurman looks forward to a future in which belief in some dogma or other will not be considered the essence of religion. In the third stage: "What we regard as essential to religion is a spiritual frame of mind...[which] includes the creature's sense of dependence upon the creator" (82). He anticipates that this spiritual religion will be less sectarian (since less dependent on creeds), and less authoritarian than dogmatic religion. While there are authorities in matters of dogma, "there can be no authority outside of the individual soul itself for the religion of spirit" (85). With this thought the lectures come full - circle, for it is this theme of individual responsibility which dominates the theoretical chapters, to which I shall now turn.
Conscience is his first topic. He begins with "moral facts." For example, we make intuitively and without any reason a distinction between right and wrong; such distinctions claim to exert an infallible authority over us. These are facts about us which need explanation. Moral sense theory, for instance, emphasizes these reactions of ours but does not adequately explain why we have them. Schurman thinks that "an altogether new conception of ethical philosophy" derives from treating these as commands rather than as propositions which are true or false. Now if conscience gives us commands, he asks: is conscience infallible? Must I always follow it? Is there anything higher than my own conscience? To these questions he notes that we do make mistakes, and other experience offers correction. But the sole outside authority "is what we may call the fashions of the community," and they are no final authority. They are too subject to change, for one thing. The great features of human moral judgment may remain constant, but the details constantly change and differ, especially from community to community.
Here is a philosopher trying to have things both ways. (One imagines him making his peace with his teacher, Martineau.) There is a universal standard among the great features: "kindness, compassion, benevolence, for without these things no society of moral beings could for an instant hang together." At the same time there is no immutable external standard, for the details are constantly changing. He concludes that for the individual, conscience is the only possible guide. It is not infallible, so you follow it at your peril, but "[i]t is the best you have" (12). This is just the first point at which Schurman sides in principle with the individual against the collective.
Conscience, he continues, is related to cognitive judgment (whether based on reasons or on moral sense). What is central, however, is not the truth or falsity of those judgments but that we find them commanded of us. Therein lies the "moral fact." Conscience is developed in the history of human beings in the way that language is, so that it is now a natural part of us. This is a very interesting thesis; roughly speaking it is a thesis about social evolution. It is developed via the comparison with language:
E]thical rules have originated probably as language has originated. They are the product of the [human] race as language is the product of the race.... Language we say is natural to man. That is to say, he is so endowed that under proper conditions he will learn to speak. So in the same manner ... man is endowed with a capacity for distinguishing right and wrong, for the recognition of moral precepts, and these precepts have, in the evolution of the human race, evolved in the same fashion as language.
When we consider this body of rules [which] constitutes morality we shall see that first of all was the practice. In the beginning was the act, not the word or thought (13 - 14).
This is not an individualist conception of the origin of moral principles. Apart from the slogan, "in the beginning was the deed" (a line of Goethe's often cited for similar reasons by Wittgenstein), there is the expectation of a common potentiality for developing moral principles, as for learning a language. Presumably which ones we do learn is an accident of birth and history; we could have learned any of the available languages and moral codes. There is an inevitable plurality in the results. But just as the linguist Noam Chomsky expects a fairly complex, generative grammar to be part of human nature and to constitute the explanation of how any of us could have learned as a child any of the actual or possible languages, Schurman expects human nature to have a common ethical potential. It is a capacity, moreover, which leads us to develop some common moral principles, necessary to any possible society. This theme - the evolutionary and social development of moral principles - sits oddly next to the celebration of the individual which I have identified as a leading theme of the lectures.
Obligation is the topic of his third lecture.(f.33) Obligation is about moral feeling. Just as we developed cognitive principles from social practices, we have similarly developed a capacity for sensitiveness. He briefly argues that we can identify Darwin's key error as overlooking the break in continuity between animals and the human animal. We have a moral law within, we can feel remorse. We feel obligation. He considers this an empirical fact, and one not further analysable. He does not agree that the sense of obligation is the result of a divine command, for instance. "Society cannot obligate you. God cannot obligate you, - both can punish you, [but] you can only obligate yourself. There is no other source of moral obligation. There is only one moral agency, and that is yourself." What we have identified as the lectures' main theme continues to emerge. If this basic, "unanalysable" experience of obligation is the motive of agency for a being whose conscience is its final moral authority, then we must expect that the individual in question will also be found to have free will.
That is just what we do find. Schurman's thus taking up free will is a return to the challenge of his first book, which charged that neither Kantian nor Spencerian ethics was adequate on this matter. The lecture on Free Will first defends physical determinism (on the good grounds, Schurman explains, that his Cornell students had thought that there were not two sides to this question). But this determinist side is stuck with an account of the mind as passive (a view which he finds throughout William James's Psychology). On the contrary, argues Schurman, we can passively record sensations, or by attending to them we can make them clearer. We can let our minds wander, or we can weave our ideas into an argument (26). The active mind is thus an agent. But the knock - down argument, he thinks, is that we are charged with moral laws. The experience that we have ideals which we must try to realize is the evidence that we can will and act.
The final sections of the theoretical part of the lectures continue the individualist theme. The summum bonum, he tells us, can be passive or active. Typical of the passive goods are pleasure and happiness. We are offered a quick run - down of egoistic hedonism and then of universal hedonism, the rubric under which he treats Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick. Utilitarianism, he rather optimistically allows, has the charm of generosity and has had the good effect of sweeping away classes in England, for according to utilitarianism "the poor and the nobles were entitled to the same amount of pleasure" (30). But when Mill claimed that some pleasure is more valuable than others, he fell into the well - known trap: by what standard is one pleasure better than another? It cannot be by the standard of pleasure, clearly, but by some other standard. When you get to principles like "each to count for one" what you have before you is "scarcely a Hedonistic theory at all" (35). The pleasure principle cannot justify "each counts for one"; thus it is no longer fundamental, and new standards must have been surreptitiously introduced.
So we turn to the alternative possibility, that the summum bonum is an activity rather than a passive feeling. In his sixth lecture, "Theory of the Universe," Schurman sketches the perfectionist theory which he wishes to defend. It is about self - fulfilment: the end of life is the perfection of our own natures. Again this is consistent with the individualism already noted. We experience ideals and we strive to achieve them. We are the agents, and the final authorities. But suddenly in the text there is a startling shift; a shift to a social conception of the person. I shall quote at length:
The realization or the perfection of our entire human nature as we have it, and not merely our gratification of our sensual natures, is what I mean as the summum bonum.... [T]he very essence of rationality, whatever else it may imply, is that it cannot be individual, it's general. It emphasizes others.... Generality, community, anti - individualism, that's the essence of the rational notion (40).
And he continues:
The eighteenth century pictures society as containing self - sufficient individuals. That's a false conception. Man, wherever we find him is a part of a tribe or family.... [A] man's fellow citizens and countrymen are as much to that man as his body or anything else which he calls himself. And for the sake of these he is willing to sacrifice himself. I say if you analyze the fact down to the bottom you will find there is no such thing as a mere individual. We are related, and a large part of that which we call our personal life is the life which we share with others" (41).
These are remarkable arguments coming from a man who has been defending the individual goal of the perfection of our human nature. How are we to pursue that goal? We build on the achievements and progress of the human race. Christianity, he claims, has widened our moral sensibility over that of the ancient Greeks; it has increased our benevolence, and has led to "the abolishment of slavery and the elevation of woman" (42). This progress will continue if, having followed the lines laid down by the human race, someone "attains to the state of an individual person," stepping forward and becoming a moral reformer. Again we have a thesis the leading idea of which is individualist, the idea being that the chief end of human life is personal self - realization, but it is immediately set in a very restrictive social context in which the common practices of humankind, evolving over time, are constitutive of the rationality, sensitivity and moral principles which seem to belong only to those individuals. This tension between individualism and anti - individualism deserves our close inspection.
I shall not linger over the next two chapters, except to say that his suicide lecture is remarkable for the mass of statistics which he quotes. He compares countries, age groups, seasons of the year, religions, etc., to reveal a pattern of increasing suicide rates. He considers this sometimes a bad sign, a "canker at the heart of modern civilization," and in another remarkable passage identifies one of the causes as
permanent and fundamental influences exercised by our entire system of economic production and distribution. The distribution of wealth is governed by the law of supply and demand. But this natural process sometimes violates the equity demanded by our moral sentiments and political rights. Yet those whom the vast machine grinds so terribly are the least able to offer resistance (52).
Again when he discusses marriage he displays a detailed grasp of current research on kinship relations, and he knows comparative sexual practices among animals as well as groups of humans, but his prime concern seems to be the conservative one of deploring the increase in divorces. He cites the increase in divorces in the USA during the years 1870 - 90, and by extrapolation reckons that by 1990 some 52 per cent of marriages would end in divorce rather than with death. Of course he warns that the future need not continue in the patterns of the past, but the prediction has turned out to be remarkably accurate. His opinion, however, is that monogamy is the height of moral development in these matters. As civilization advanced, the treatment of women also advanced, from barbarism and the imposition of the male's personality on the woman, to a stage in which our sympathies are more developed, and we now acknowledge that "difference of sex cannot rob any human being of his [or her] personality." Most peculiar, perhaps, is the repetition of the whole paragraph against individualism which I cited a few moments ago.
CRITIQUE OF SOCIALISM
Finally there is the chapter on justice, which rather uncharacteristically begins with an anti - feminist example of an inequality which is not an injustice. "[I]t could not be said that we are guilty of injustice in not allowing women to vote for that rests upon other functions which also we do not call upon women to perform. For instance, to defend the state" (71). He is right to think that there are inequalities of treatment which are justifiable, and therefore not matters of injustice, but he was soon to become more sensitive (to use his own expression) to feminist issues. In 1893 his presidential address to the students at Cornell notes the admission of women students, and the invitation of a Mrs. Hill to give a lecture. And in 1897 he defied his board of trustees in order to appoint a female faculty member, a female college warden, and a female member of the board of governors. He boasts of a 100 per cent increase in women's accommodation.(f.34) Some years later, during the first World War, he had progressed to claiming, "I am in favour of granting the women of our State a right to vote on the same termsas men...."(f.35) And in an address to the women of Elmira College he says, "I for one want to see women have the opportunity and right to show what they can do in the very highest positions of service which the country offers."(f.36) It is clear that on this topic he has come a long way since 1892.
One biographer judges that in his later career of public service, "Schurman's political outlook can be called middle - of - the - road. His rhetoric was slightly to the left of centre, but his practical ties were a good distance to the right."(f.37) I have cited examples of both during my exposition of his ethical theory. I wish now, and finally, to consider his assessment of socialism; it is the most immediately revealing of his discussions of matters of political theory, and the place where the rhetoric and practice clash most vividly. It is also the place where individualism is most directly under attack, and Schurman rallies to its defense, but with radical qualifications.
Justice is the fundamental virtue of community life. It consists of the impartial distribution of privileges and benefits, burdens and pains, both through the observance of law and the observance of normal or tacit understandings. "Human beings should be treated alike unless some satisfactory reason can be given for treating them unlike" (71). Further, we submit our laws to criticism in the name of justice, so there is an ideal justice. As the common account of this he cites Herbert Spencer's "Justice," published the previous year, in which natural rights, or more simply the natural right to freedom, is defined as the essence of justice. Spencer thinks he can derive all other rights from the right to do as one can, qualified with the provision that we shall not interfere with the similar rights of others. Schurman now characterizes this as the eighteenth - century view which is expressed in the American Declaration of Independence. It has led to what he calls "the individualistic theory of society" (72), and it implies, he thinks, that there must be free will. Now he can shift from freedom, as one candidate for the ideal element of justice, to desert (which also implies free will).
He describes socialism as a doctrine with an ethical basis. It holds that the modern individualistic system of society does not give various citizens their desserts. We know from an earlier statement that he thinks this is true ("Those whom the vast machine grinds so terribly...."). He gives an un - Marxist account of the socialist doctrine, viz., that rewards need to be determined not by competition but by a mechanism accurately adjusted to the labour performed. The justice of socialism follows from an account of the notions of free will and merit and desert. Roughly, the deserving should not be poor, and the undeserving should not be rich.
Plato is briefly discussed in connection with the idea that it is philosophy's job to contemplate ideal justice and to criticize the existing order of things. But, just as with socialism, Plato's ideal of justice needs to be corrected. They both founder on the rock of human nature, for the selfish passions which create injustice cannot be made to disappear. Schurman is aroused to parody: "Private property abolished. Family life abolished.... Where then do you find justice...? Everybody is to have the same meals and clothes.... I know of no reason why all men should have the same clothes and meals" (74).
But there is a more reasonable form of socialism, which Schurman calls "economic socialism." It is a doctrine which permits individuals to hold private property (and have their choice in meals, we assume), but which does propose collective ownership of the means of production. The state would then be the sole employer of labour, and each worker paid fairly for his "social labour time." This rather simplistic sketch none the less provides the target for interesting programmatic objections. I shall mention only two: First, Schurman maintains that "human nature is on the one hand social and on the other hand egoistic" (75). So much, perhaps, for the idea that the social nature of humans is the basis of the higher ideals sought in self - realization. Or perhaps it is just that the desire for gain has produced the material success of modern society. In any case, to do away with this part of human nature is "an enormous sacrifice to ask" (75). Second, the scheme should anyway be tried first, if at all, in some country where the government is already somewhat centralized and is used to managing things, and where there is a good civil service. "Our civil servants are the shame of our state."
Schurman then makes a very revealing counter - proposal. There is a use of capital which seems unjust; this happens when enormous fortunes are made very quickly, for example in railroads, coal or oil. It may be that if that sort of capital were nationalized then average individuals would be a little better off. But he thinks these are the exceptional cases. And besides, "you can get at them without any revolutionary procedure." State legislatures have the power to control and regulate. He offers one of his rare Canadian examples: "In Nova Scotia, for instance, for every ton of coal a royalty is paid to the treasury. It is the same in Ontario, and might be the same, it seems to me, in all the states of the union" (76).
I called this claim "revealing," and it is so for two reasons. First, it is the exception which undermines, rather than proves, his rule: socialists look around and see enormous fortunes, and "far more frequently terrific poverty." They assume that if the fortunes could be prevented the poverty would be ended. "But there is no connection between the two" (77). This claim, if he really means it, licenses his other revealing claim: the recommendation of piecemeal improvements. "What shall we say of the social question? I can say this, to begin with: there is no social question. There are social questions" (77). He proceeds to outline three questions and three solutions, the most dramatic of which is the imposition of death and estate taxes to prevent new generations coming into the world with an insuperable, unfair advantage. But in general, "I think we have to believe that the existing order is the final order.... We must assume that our present institutions embody justice. We must limit the work of the reformers to details, and not to the complete suppression of the spirit of the society to which we belong" (78).
When I first read these lectures I thought them essentially an individualist document; here is a man who holds that conscience is a final authority, that humans are the ultimate source of obligation, and that agency and free will attach to individuals. His views on suicide and divorce are liberal for his time, and it seems appropriate that he thinks that socialism stifles natural egoism. Then the recurrent paragraphs on the social nature of the human animal began to strike me as anomalous. Soon they took on a life of their own; I began to see how deeply this thesis informed the critique of utilitarianism and formed the basis of our moral principles and the goals for fulfilling our real natures. Having adapted to that line of thinking, I was not so surprised to read that there is a moral basis for socialism and that justice requires a more equal distribution of goods than is provided for by competitive individualism. But suddenly that, too, is branded unjust and impractical. We end with an account of a composite society, one feature not connected to another, and in which injustice is to be relieved one bit at a time without upsetting anything else.
Perhaps Schurman is just too Canadian - is he seeking a rational middle way between the doctrines of individualism and socialism? Perhaps he is just being Americanized - is it his growing Republican commitments that lead him to seek a merely pragmatic solution to problems beyond his grasp? Perhaps he is just hopelessly muddled and not worth our consideration as a philosopher(f.38) - does he not base his compromise on a muddled human