The Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers of Man.

Published: Edinburgh: Printed for Adam Black .. and Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, London

Date: 1828

first edition 2 vols. 8vo. xvi, 416; (iii)-viii, 544, [1 (errata)]pp. including the half-title in vol.I but not in vol.II, modern half dark green calf, spines panelled by gilt rolled raised bands, gilt tool at panel centres, black labels gilt, marbled paper on sides, small tissue paper repair in 2 leaves, inconspicuous old library blind stamp at top corner of title pages, some foxing of terminal leaves, very good.

Stewart (Edinburgh, 1753–1828) saw it as "the role of the philosopher .. to elucidate the laws by which human understanding occurred. ..... His favoured empirical and inductive theory of knowledge had as its corollary a form of natural science in the tradition of Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, whose works he admired. Bacon was especially influential, and Stewart saw himself extending the remit of Baconian science into the study of human activity. He argued that contrary to traditional readings of Baconian methodology, induction did not preclude any role for hypothesis. Instead of merely gathering unadorned facts, the philosopher's purpose was to place disparate experiences into a conjectural system so as to produce a testable prescriptive scheme ... The theories of Newton were his choice of model for this methodology, which he employed across a wide range of fields within the discipline of philosophy, though it is as an epistemologist that he is now principally regarded. In his epistemology Stewart was the most creative and able disciple of his former teacher Thomas Reid. Like Reid, Stewart advocated a ‘common-sense’ philosophy ... Stewart saw his thought as an antidote to the mitigated scepticism of David Hume. Although appreciative of Hume's intellectual calibre, and his positive contributions in the fields of political economy and history, Stewart worried about the consequences of Hume's epistemological scepticism and particularly his separation of fact and value, an understandable view given Stewart's employment as a professor of moral philosophy. However, rather than reject Hume's insight outright, Stewart followed Reid in overcoming the problem by concentrating on the intuition of everyday individuals. ‘Common sense’, or the ordinary responses of humans to social circumstances, provided people with the knowledge they needed to live successfully and virtuously. These responses also gave philosophers the empirical evidence required to reveal the workings of the mind, thereby revealing the ‘science of man’. Stewart argued that through a process of intensive introspection, the philosopher was able to determine the essential truths necessary for men's minds to operate successfully. Philosophy failed in its duty only when the philosophical urge to understand exceeded the boundaries imposed by empirical observation. .... In moral philosophy Stewart also continued the tradition bestowed upon him by Reid. He maintained that the mind held what he termed ‘active powers’ able to impose patterns upon the chaos of empirical data. This prioritized the power of the agent's understanding and his will over the influence of the social environment. In arguing this case, Stewart made a distinctive contribution to the theory of free will, proposing that humans were self-aware and intellectually creative, and therefore were not subject to causes in the same sense as the material, non-thinking world. The implication was that agents could choose between contending motives, thereby installing a theory of free will, .... As a consequence he contended that humans were capable of intellectual improvement, brought about by education and training, by which a whig politics of optimism was translated into a moral vocabulary: people, he suggested, could strive for, and attain, moral progress. Unlike the material, unthinking world of nature, it was the purpose of the conscious world to endeavour to comprehend the deity's purpose in creating the universe, and to co-operate with the intended ends of that power. It was this conception of the moral capacity of the individual that gave to Stewart's scheme a distinctly prescriptive element. In this he was anti-utilitarian; virtue was definable as the performance of social duties, and while Stewart was influential in developing the thought of his student James Mill, he did not follow Mill's reduction of virtue into utility" [Michael Brown in O.D.N.B.]


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