A Letter to Dion

A Letter to Dion

A Letter to Dion

A Letter to Dion

Excerpt

When a large new class rises to a position where it feels it is crucial to the life of the nation, it is likely to enquire into the moral bases of its actions; it is anxious to know, not only how it should behave, but why it should choose one way rather than another. And in the extremely lively intellectual atmosphere of the early eighteenth century, under the stimulus of the Enlightenment the English became extremely curious about the motives which actuated them in their daily living. What induced them to behave well? Why did men indulge in evil? How far were men guided by their passions? The general weakening of Christianity brought about by the writings of such diverse people as Hobbes and Spinoza, the idea of the mechanical universe which the general mind derived from the Newtonian system, the nature of human understanding as presented by Locke, resulted in a numerous band of free-thinkers who felt that the ground was cleared for unrestricted discussion of ethical matters. For them the fear of divine retribution, the hope of eternal reward, no longer seemed a sufficient explanation for the impulses towards good; to some, as to Shaftesbury, such motives were not even honourable; they degraded the human spirit. Such a discussion naturally took various forms, it existed on several levels of subtlety, from the crude, if by no . . .

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