Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury

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Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (26 February 1671 – 4 February 1713) was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

, philosopher and writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....



He was born at Exeter House
Cecil House
Cecil House refers to two historical mansions on The Strand, London, in the vicinity of the Savoy. The first was a 16th century house on the north side, where the Strand Palace Hotel now stands...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, the grandson of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury PC , known as Anthony Ashley Cooper from 1621 to 1631, as Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, 2nd Baronet from 1631 to 1661, and as The Lord Ashley from 1661 to 1672, was a prominent English politician during the Interregnum and during the reign of King Charles...

 and son of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 2nd Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 2nd Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 2nd Earl of Shaftesbury , known as Lord Ashley from 1672 to 1683, was an English peer and Member of Parliament....

. His mother was Lady Dorothy Manners, daughter of John Manners, 8th Earl of Rutland
John Manners, 8th Earl of Rutland
John Manners, 8th Earl of Rutland was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1640 until 1641 when he inherited the peerage....

. According to a story told by the third earl, the marriage was negotiated by John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

, who was a trusted friend of the first earl. The second Lord Shaftesbury appears to have been both physically and mentally inadequate. At the age of three his son was made over to the formal guardianship of his grandfather. Locke, who in his capacity of medical attendant to the Ashley household, had already assisted at the child's birth, was now entrusted with the supervision of his education. This was conducted according to the principles enunciated in Locke's Thoughts concerning Education, and the method of teaching Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 conversationally was pursued with such success by his instructress, Elizabeth Birch, that at the age of eleven, it is said, Ashley could read both languages with ease.

In November 1683, some months after the death of the first Earl, his father sent him to Winchester College
Winchester College
Winchester College is an independent school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire, the former capital of England. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England...

 as a warden's boarder. Being shy and mocked because of his grandfather, he appears to have been miserable at school. He left Winchester in 1686 for a course of foreign travel. This brought him into contact with artistic and classical associations which would strongly influence his character and opinions. On his travels he apparently did not seek the conversation of other young English gentlemen on their travels, but rather that of their tutors, with whom he could converse on congenial topics.

In 1689, the year after the "Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

", Lord Ashley returned to England, and for nearly five years he appears to have led a quiet and studious life. There can be no doubt that the greater part of his attention was directed to the perusal of classical authors and to the attempt to realize the true spirit of classical antiquity. He had no intention, however, of becoming a recluse. He became parliamentary candidate for the borough of Poole and was returned on 21 May 1695. He soon distinguished himself by a speech in support of the Bill for Regulating Trials in Cases of Treason, one provision of which was that a person indicted for treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 or misprision of treason
Misprision of treason
Misprision of treason is an offence found in many common law jurisdictions around the world, having been inherited from English law. It is committed by someone who knows a treason is being or is about to be committed but does not report it to a proper authority...

 should be allowed the assistance of counsel. Although a Whig
British Whig Party
The Whigs were a party in the Parliament of England, Parliament of Great Britain, and Parliament of the United Kingdom, who contested power with the rival Tories from the 1680s to the 1850s. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule...

, Ashley could not be depended on to give a party vote. He was always ready to support propositions from other quarters, if they appeared to him to promote the liberty of the subject and the independence of parliament. His poor health forced him to retire from parliament at the dissolution of July 1698. He suffered from asthma
Asthma is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath...

, a complaint which was aggravated by the London smoke.

Lord Ashley now retired to the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, where he became acquainted with Georges-Louis Leclerc, Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle was a French philosopher and writer best known for his seminal work the Historical and Critical Dictionary, published beginning in 1695....

, Benjamin Furly
Benjamin Furly
-Life:Furly was born at Colchester 13 April 1636, began life as a merchant there, and joined the early Quakers. In 1659–60 he assisted John Stubbs in the compilation of the 'Battle-Door.' George Fox records that this work was finished in 1661, and that Furly took great pains with it.Some time...

, the English Quaker merchant, at whose house Locke had resided during his stay at Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam on the Rotte river, Rotterdam has grown into a major international commercial centre...

, and probably Limborch
Philipp van Limborch
Philipp van Limborch , Dutch Remonstrant theologian, was born at Amsterdam, where his father was a lawyer.He received his education at Utrecht, at Leiden, in his native city, and finally at Utrecht University, which he entered in 1652...

 and the rest of the literary circle of which Locke had been a cherished and honoured member nine or ten years before. To Lord Ashley this society was probably far more congenial than his surroundings in England. Unrestrained conversation on the topics which most interested him—philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

, morals, religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

—was at this time to be had in the Netherlands with less danger and in greater abundance than in any other country in the world. To the period of this sojourn in the Netherlands must probably be referred the surreptitious impression or publication of an imperfect edition of the Inquiry concerning Virtue, from a rough draught, sketched when he was only twenty years of age. This liberty was taken, during his absence, by Toland
John Toland
John Toland was a rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, who wrote numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion, which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment...


After an absence of over twelve months, Ashley returned to England, and soon succeeded his father as Earl of Shaftesbury
Earl of Shaftesbury
Earl of Shaftesbury is a title in the Peerage of England. It was created in 1672 for Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Baron Ashley, a prominent politician in the Cabal then dominating the policies of King Charles II...

. He took an active part, on the Whig side, in the general election of 1700–1701, and again, with more success, in the autumn election of 1701. It is said that William III
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

 showed his appreciation of Shaftesbury's services on this latter occasion by offering him a secretaryship of state
Secretary of State (England)
In the Kingdom of England, the title of Secretary of State came into being near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I , the usual title before that having been King's Clerk, King's Secretary, or Principal Secretary....

, which, however, his worsening health compelled him to decline. Had the King's life continued, Shaftesbury's influence at court would probably have been considerable. After the first few weeks of Anne
Anne of Great Britain
Anne ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702. On 1 May 1707, under the Act of Union, two of her realms, England and Scotland, were united as a single sovereign state, the Kingdom of Great Britain.Anne's Catholic father, James II and VII, was deposed during the...

's reign, Shaftesbury, who had been deprived of the vice-admiralty of Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

, returned to his retired life, but his letters to Furly
Benjamin Furly
-Life:Furly was born at Colchester 13 April 1636, began life as a merchant there, and joined the early Quakers. In 1659–60 he assisted John Stubbs in the compilation of the 'Battle-Door.' George Fox records that this work was finished in 1661, and that Furly took great pains with it.Some time...

 show that he retained a keen interest in politics.

In August 1703, he again settled in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, in the air of which he seems, like Locke, to have had great faith. At Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam on the Rotte river, Rotterdam has grown into a major international commercial centre...

 he lived, he says in a letter to his steward Wheelock, at the rate of less than £200 a year, and yet had much to dispose of and spend beyond convenient living. He returned to England, much improved in health, in August 1704. Although he had received immediate benefit from his stay abroad, he was showing symptoms of consumption
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

, and gradually became a confirmed invalid. His occupations were now almost exclusively literary, and from this time forward he was engaged in writing, completing or revising the treatises which were afterwards included in the Characteristics. He continued, however, to take a warm interest in politics, both home and foreign, and especially in the war against France, of which he was an enthusiastic supporter.

Shaftesbury was nearly forty before he married, and even then he appears to have taken this step at the urgent instigation of his friends, mainly to supply a successor to the title. The object of his choice (or rather of his second choice, for an earlier project of marriage had shortly before fallen through) was Jane Ewer, the daughter of a Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

 gentleman. The marriage took place in the autumn of 1709, and on 9 February 1711, was born at his house at Reigate
Reigate is a historic market town in Surrey, England, at the foot of the North Downs, and in the London commuter belt. It is one of the main constituents of the Borough of Reigate and Banstead...

, in Surrey, his only child and heir, the fourth Earl, to whose manuscript accounts we are in great part indebted for the details of his father's life. The match appears to have been happy, though Shaftesbury had little sentiment on the subject of married life.

With the exception of a Preface to the Sermons of Dr Whichcote, one of the Cambridge Platonists
Cambridge Platonists
The Cambridge Platonists were a group of philosophers at Cambridge University in the middle of the 17th century .- Programme :...

 or latitudinarian
Latitudinarian was initially a pejorative term applied to a group of 17th-century English theologians who believed in conforming to official Church of England practices but who felt that matters of doctrine, liturgical practice, and ecclesiastical organization were of relatively little importance...

s, published in 1698, Shaftesbury appears to have printed nothing himself till 1708. About this time the French Camisard
Camisards were French Protestants of the rugged and isolated Cevennes region of south-central France, who raised an insurrection against the persecutions which followed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685...

s attracted much attention by their extravagances and follies. Various repressive remedies were proposed, but Shaftesbury maintained that fanaticism was best defeated by raillery and good-humour. In support of this view he wrote a letter Concerning Enthusiasm to Lord Somers, dated September 1707, which was published anonymously in the following year, and provoked several replies. In May 1709, he returned to the subject, and printed another letter, entitled , an Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour. In the same year he also published The Moralists, a Philosophical Rhapsody, and in the following year Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author. None of these pieces seems to have been printed either with his name or his initials. In 1711, the Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times appeared in three volumes, also without any name or initials on the title-page, and without even the name of a printer. These volumes contain in addition to the four treatises already mentioned, Miscellaneous Reflections, now first printed, and the Inquiry concerning Virtue and Merit, described as formerly printed from an imperfect copy, now corrected and published intire, and as printed first in 1699.

The declining state of Shaftesbury's health rendered it necessary for him to seek a warmer climate and in July 1711 he set out for Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. He settled at Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 in November, and lived there for more than a year. His principal occupation at this time must have consisted in preparing for the press a second edition of the Characteristics, which appeared in 1713, soon after his death. The copy, carefully corrected in his own handwriting, is preserved in the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

. He was also engaged, during his stay at Naples, in writing the little treatise (afterwards included in the Characteristics) entitled A Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of the Judgment of Hercules, and the letter concerning Design. A little before his death he had also formed a scheme of writing a Discourse on the Arts of Painting, Sculpture, Etching, &c., but when he died he had made but little progress with it. Medals, and pictures, and antiquities, he writes to Furly, are our chief entertainments here. His conversation was with men of art and science, the virtuosi of this place.

The events preceding the Treaty of Utrecht
Treaty of Utrecht
The Treaty of Utrecht, which established the Peace of Utrecht, comprises a series of individual peace treaties, rather than a single document, signed by the belligerents in the War of Spanish Succession, in the Dutch city of Utrecht in March and April 1713...

, which he saw as paving the way for a base desertion of British allies, greatly troubled the last months of Shaftesbury's life. He did not, however, live to see the actual conclusion of the treaty (31 March 1713), as he died the month before, 4 February 1713. His body was brought back by sea to England and buried at Wimborne St Giles
Wimborne St Giles
Wimborne St Giles is a village in east Dorset, England, situated on Cranborne Chase seven miles north of Wimborne Minster which is north of Poole. The village has a population of 366 ....

, the family seat in Dorsetshire. His only son, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury , 4th Earl of Shaftesbury.The 4th Earl served as Lord Lieutenant of Dorset from 1734 until his death.-Family Legacy:...

, succeeded him in his titles and republished Characteristics in 1732. His great-grandson was the famous philanthropist, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.


Shaftesbury's amiability of character seems to have been one of his principal characteristics. Like Locke he had a peculiar pleasure in bringing forward young men. Among these may be especially mentioned Michael Ainsworth, a native of Wimborne St Giles, the young man who was the recipient of the Letters addressed to a student at the university, and was maintained by Shaftesbury at University College, Oxford
University College, Oxford
.University College , is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. As of 2009 the college had an estimated financial endowment of £110m...

. The interest which Shaftesbury took in his studies, and the desire that he should be specially fitted for the profession which he had selected, that of a clergyman of the Church of England, are marked features of the letters. Other protegés were Crell, a young Pole, the two young Furlys and Harry Wilkinson, a boy who was sent into Furly's office at Rotterdam, and to whom several of the letters still extant in the Record Office are addressed.

In the popular mind, Shaftesbury is generally regarded as a writer hostile to religion. But, however short his orthodoxy might fall if tried by the standards of any particular church, his temperament was pre-eminently religious. This fact is shown in his letters. The belief in a God, all-wise, all-just and all-merciful, governing the world providentially for the best, pervades all his works, his correspondence and his life. Nor had he any wish to undermine established beliefs, except where he conceived that they conflicted with a truer religion and a purer morality.

To the public ordinances of the church he scrupulously conformed. But, unfortunately, there were many things both in the teaching and the practice of the ecclesiastics of that day, which were calculated to repel men of sober judgment and high principle. These evil tendencies in the popular presentation of Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 undoubtedly begot in Shaftesbury's mind a certain amount of repugnance and contempt to some of the doctrines of Christianity itself; and, cultivating, almost of set purpose, his sense of the ridiculous, he was too apt to assume towards such doctrines and their teachers a tone of raillery.

But, whatever might be Shaftesbury's speculative opinions or his mode of expressing them, all witnesses bear testimony to the elevation and purity of his life and aims. As an earnest student, and ardent lover of liberty, an enthusiast in the cause of virtue, and a man of unblemished life and untiring beneficence, Shaftesbury probably had no superior in his generation. His character and pursuits are the more remarkable, considering the rank of life in which he was born and the circumstances under which he was brought up. In many respects he reminds us of the imperial philosopher Marcus Aurelius, whose works he studied with avidity, and whose influence is stamped upon his own productions.

Other works

Most of Shaftesbury's writings have been already mentioned. In addition to these there have been published:
  • fourteen letters from Shaftesbury to Molesworth, edited by John Toland
    John Toland
    John Toland was a rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, who wrote numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion, which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment...

     in 1721;
  • some letters to Benjamin Furly, his sons, and his clerk Harry Wilkinson, included, in a volume entitled Original Letters of Locke, Sidney and Shaftesbury, which was published by T. Forster in 1830, and again in an enlarged form in 1847;
  • three letters, written respectively to Stringer, Lord Oxford and Lord Godolphin, which appeared, for the first time, in the General Dictionary
    General Dictionary, Historical and Critical
    The General Dictionary, Historical and Critical was a biographical dictionary published from 1734 to 1741 in London in 10 volumes. It derived from the Dictionnaire historique et critique of Pierre Bayle, already translated into English in 1710 by Pierre des Maizeaux as An Historical and Critical...

  • and lastly a letter to Le Clerc, in his recollections of Locke, first published in Notes and Queries
    Notes and Queries
    Notes and Queries is a long-running quarterly scholarly journal that publishes short articles related to "English language and literature, lexicography, history, and scholarly antiquarianism". Its emphasis is on "the factual rather than the speculative"...

    on 8 February 1851.

The Letters to a Young Man at the University (Michael Ainsworth), already mentioned, were first published in 1716. The Letter on Design was first published in the edition of the Characteristics issued in 1732. Besides the published writings, there are several memoranda, letters, rough drafts, etc., in the Shaftesbury papers in the Record Office.

Writing style

Shaftesbury took great pains in the elaboration of his style, and he succeeded so far as to make his meaning transparent. The thought is always clear. But, on the other hand, he did not equally succeed in attaining elegance, an object at which he seems equally to have aimed. There is a curious affectation about his style—a falsetto note—which, notwithstanding all his efforts to please, is often irritating to the reader. Its main characteristic is perhaps best hit off by Charles Lamb when he calls it genteel. He poses too much as a fine gentleman, and is so anxious not to be taken for a pedant of the vulgar scholastic kind that he falls into the hardly more attractive pedantry of the aesthete and virtuoso. But he is easily read and understood. Fowler writing in the early 20th century, in the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica states that, probably, the wide popularity which his works enjoyed in the 18th century; and hence the agreeable feeling with which, notwithstanding all their false taste and their tiresome digressions, they impress the modern reader.


Shaftesbury's philosophical importance is due mainly to his ethical
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 speculations, in which his motive was primarily the refutation of Hobbes' egoistic doctrine. By the method of empirical psychology, he examined man first as a unit in himself and secondly in his wider relations to the larger units of society and the universe of mankind. His great principle was that of Harmony or Balance, and he based it on the general ground of good taste or feeling as opposed to the method of reason:
  1. In the first place, man as an individual is a complex of appetites, passions, affections, more or less perfectly controlled by the central reason. In the moral man these factors are duly balanced. "Whoever," he says, "is in the least versed in this moral kind of architecture will find the inward fabric so adjusted, ... that the barely extending of a single passion too far or the continuance ... of it too long, is able to bring irrecoverable ruin and misery".
  2. As a social being, man is part of a greater harmony, and, in order that he may contribute to the happiness of the whole, he must order his extra-regarding activities so that they shall not clash with his environs. Only when he has regulated his Internal and his social relations by this ideal can he be regarded as rule moral. The egoist
    Egoist may refer to:*A person with self-esteem and self-love egoism*An adherent of egoist anarchism*The Egoist , 1879 novel by George Meredith*The Egoist , literary magazine founded by Dora Marsden...

     and the altruist
    Altruism is a concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions, though the concept of 'others' toward whom concern should be directed can vary among cultures and religions. Altruism is the opposite of...

     are both imperfect. In the ripe perfection of humanity, the two impulses will be perfectly adjusted.

Thus, by the criterion of harmony, Shaftesbury refutes Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

, and deduces the virtue of benevolence as indispensable to morality. So also he has drawn a close parallel between the moral and the aesthetic criteria. Just as there is a faculty which apprehends beauty in the sphere of art, so there is in the sphere of ethics a faculty which determines the value of actions. This faculty he described (for the first time in English thought) as the Moral Sense (see Hutcheson
Francis Hutcheson (philosopher)
Francis Hutcheson was a philosopher born in Ireland to a family of Scottish Presbyterians who became one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Enlightenment....

) or Conscience (cf. Butler
Joseph Butler
Joseph Butler was an English bishop, theologian, apologist, and philosopher. He was born in Wantage in the English county of Berkshire . He is known, among other things, for his critique of Thomas Hobbes's egoism and John Locke's theory of personal identity...

). In its essence, it is primarily emotional and non-reflective; in process of development it becomes rationalized by education and use. The emotional and the rational elements in the moral sense Shaftesbury did not fully analyse (see Home
Henry Home, Lord Kames
Henry Home, Lord Kames was a Scottish advocate, judge, philosopher, writer and agricultural improver. A central figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, a founder member of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, and active in the Select Society, his protégés included James Boswell, David Hume and...


From this principle, it follows:
  1. that the distinction between right and wrong is part of the constitution of human nature;
  2. that morality stands apart from theology, and the moral qualities of actions are determined apart from the arbitrary will of God
    Divine command theory
    Divine command theory is the meta-ethical view about the semantics or meaning of ethical sentences, which claims that ethical sentences express propositions, some of which are true, about the attitudes of God...

  3. that the ultimate test of an action is its tendency to promote the general harmony or welfare;
  4. that appetite and reason concur in the determination of action;
  5. that the moralist is not concerned to solve the problems of freewill and determinism
    Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...


From these results we see that Shaftesbury, opposed to Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 and Locke, is in close agreement with Hutcheson, and that he is ultimately a deeply religious thinker, inasmuch as he discards the moral sanction of public opinion, the terrors of future punishment
Imperfect contrition
Imperfect contrition in Catholic theology is a desire not to sin for a reason other than love of God. Imperfect contrition is contrasted with perfect contrition....

, and the authority of the civil authority
Rule according to higher law
The rule according to a higher law means that no written law may be enforced by the government unless it conforms with certain unwritten, universal principles of fairness, morality, and justice...

 as the main incentives to goodness, and substitutes the voice of conscience and the love of God. These two alone move men to aim at perfect harmony for its own sake in the man and in the universe.

Shaftesbury's philosophical activity was confined to ethics, religion, and aesthetics where he was one of the earliest writers to bring into prominence the concept of the sublime
Sublime (philosophy)
In aesthetics, the sublime is the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic...

 as an aesthetic quality. For metaphysics, properly so called, and even psychology, except so far as it afforded a basis for ethics, he evidently had no taste. Logic he probably despised as merely an instrument of pedantic judgment for which, in his day, and especially at the universities, there was only too much ground.

The main object of the Moralists is to propound a system of natural theology, and to vindicate, so far as natural religion is concerned, the ways of God to man. The articles of Shaftesbury's religious creed were few and simple, but these he entertained with a conviction amounting to enthusiasm. They may briefly be summed up as a belief in one God whose most characteristic attribute is universal benevolence, in the moral government of the universe, and in a future state of man making up for the imperfections and repairing the inequalities of the present life. Shaftesbury is emphatically an optimist, but there is a passage in the Moralists (pt. ii. sect. 4) which would lead us to suppose that he regarded matter as an indifferent principle, coexistent and coeternal with God, limiting His operations, and the cause of the evil
Problem of evil
In the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is the question of how to explain evil if there exists a deity that is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient . Some philosophers have claimed that the existences of such a god and of evil are logically incompatible or unlikely...

 and imperfection which, notwithstanding the benevolence of the Creator, is still to be found in His work. If this view of his optimism be correct, Shaftesbury, as Mill says of Leibniz, must be regarded as maintaining, not that this is the best of all imaginable but only of all possible worlds. This brief notice of Shaftesbury's scheme of natural religion would be conspicuously imperfect unless it were added that it is popularized in Pope
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson...

's Essay on Man, several lines of which, especially of the first epistle, are simply statements from the Moralists done into verse. Whether, however, these were taken immediately by Pope from Shaftesbury, or whether they came to him through the papers which Bolingbroke
Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke
Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke was an English politician, government official and political philosopher. He was a leader of the Tories, and supported the Church of England politically despite his atheism. In 1715 he supported the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 which sought to overthrow the...

 had prepared for his use, we have no means of determining. On the other hand, Pope had certainly read Shaftesbury's work, for he mentions the character of Theocles in the latter's The Moralists in his Dunciad (IV.487-490): "Or that bright Image to our Fancy draw,/Which Theocles in raptur'd vision saw,/While thro' Poetic scenes the Genius roves,/Or wanders wild in Academic Groves". In his notes to these lines, Pope directs the reader to various passages in Shaftesbury's work.


The influence of Shaftesbury's writings was considerable both at home and abroad. His ethical system was reproduced, though in a more precise and philosophical form, by Hutcheson, and from him descended, with certain variations, to Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 and Adam Smith
Adam Smith
Adam Smith was a Scottish social philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations...

. Nor was it without its effect even on the speculations of Butler. Of the so-called deists
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

 Shaftesbury was probably the most important, as he was certainly the most plausible and the most respectable. No sooner had the Characteristics appeared than they were welcomed, in terms of warm commendation, by Le Clerc and Leibniz
Gottfried Leibniz
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher and mathematician. He wrote in different languages, primarily in Latin , French and German ....


In 1745 Denis Diderot
Denis Diderot
Denis Diderot was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer. He was a prominent person during the Enlightenment and is best known for serving as co-founder and chief editor of and contributor to the Encyclopédie....

 adapted or reproduced the Inquiry concerning Virtue in what was afterwards known as his Essai sur le Mérite et la Vertu. In 1769 a French translation of the whole of Shaftesbury's works, including the Letters, was published at Geneva. Translations of separate treatises into German began to be made in 1738, and in 1776-1779 there appeared a complete German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 translation of the Characteristics. Hermann Hettner
Hermann Theodor Hettner
Hermann Julius Theodor Hettner , was a German literary historian and writer on the history of art.He was born at Leisersdorf , near Goldberg , in Silesia. At the universities of Berlin, Halle and Heidelberg he concentrated on the study of philosophy, but in 1843 turned his attention to aesthetics,...

 says that not only Leibniz, Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

 and Diderot, but Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was a German writer, philosopher, dramatist, publicist, and art critic, and one of the most outstanding representatives of the Enlightenment era. His plays and theoretical writings substantially influenced the development of German literature...

, Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn was a German Jewish philosopher to whose ideas the renaissance of European Jews, Haskalah is indebted...

, Wieland and Herder, drew the most stimulating nutriment from Shaftesbury. His charms, he adds, are ever fresh. A new-born Hellenism, or divine coitus of beauty presented itself before his inspired soul.

Herder is especially eulogistic. In the Adrastea he pronounces the Moralists to be a composition in form well-nigh worthy of Grecian antiquity, and in its contents almost superior to it. The interest felt by German literary men in Shaftesbury was revived by the publication of two excellent monographs, one dealing with him mainly from the theological side by Gideon Spicker (Freiburg in Baden, 1872), the other dealing with him mainly from the philosophical side by Georg von Gizycki (Leipzig, 1876).

Further reading

The most recent and definitive biography available of the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury is Robert B. Voitle's "The third Earl of Shaftesbury, 1671-1713" Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c1984.

In Thomas Fowler
Thomas Fowler
Thomas Fowler was an English inventor whose most notable invention was the thermosiphon which forms the basis of most modern central heating systems....

's monograph on Shaftesbury and Hutcheson in the series of English philosophers (1882) he was able to supplement the printed materials for the Life by extracts from the Shaftesbury papers in the Record Office. These include, besides many letters and memoranda, two Lives of him, composed by his son, the fourth earl, one of which is evidently the original, though it is by no means always closely followed, of the Life contributed by Thomas Birch
Thomas Birch
Thomas Birch was an English historian.-Life:He was the son of Joseph Birch, a coffee-mill maker, and was born at Clerkenwell....

 to the General Dictionary.

For description and criticism of Shaftesbury's philosophy:
  • James Mackintosh
    James Mackintosh
    Sir James Mackintosh was a Scottish jurist, politician and historian. His studies and sympathies embraced many interests. He was trained as a doctor and barrister, and worked also as a journalist, judge, administrator, professor, philosopher and politician.-Early life:Mackintosh was born at...

    , Progress of Ethical Philosophy
  • W. Whewell, History of Moral Philosophy in England
  • Théodore Simon Jouffroy
    Théodore Simon Jouffroy
    Théodore Simon Jouffroy was a French philosopher.He was born at Les Pontets, Franche-Comté, département of Doubs. In his tenth year, his father, a tax-gatherer, sent him to an uncle at Pontarlier, under whom he began his classical studies...

    , Introduction to Ethics (Channing's translation)
  • Leslie Stephen
    Leslie Stephen
    Sir Leslie Stephen, KCB was an English author, critic and mountaineer, and the father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.-Life:...

    , English Thought in the Eighteenth Century
  • James Martineau
    James Martineau
    James Martineau was an English religious philosopher influential in the history of Unitarianism. For 45 years he was Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy in Manchester New College, the principal training college for British Unitarianism.-Early life:He was born in Norwich,...

    , Types of Ethical Theory
  • Windelband,'s history of Philosophy (Eng. trans., 1893)
  • Basil Willey
    Basil Willey
    Basil Willey was a professor of English literature at Cambridge University and a prolific author of well-written and scholarly works on English literature and intellectual history....

    , The English Moralists (1964)
  • Walter Mooney Hatch's unfinished edition with appendices of the Characteristics (1870)
  • J. M. Robertson
    J. M. Robertson
    John Mackinnon Robertson was a prolific journalist, advocate of rationalism and secularism, and Liberal Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom for Tyneside from 1906 to 1918.- Biography :...

    's edition of the Characteristics (1900)
  • Benjamin Rand (1900) The Life, Unpublished Letters and Philosophical Regimen of Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury
  • Cooper, Anthony Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury, An Inquiry Concerning Virtue, London, 1699. Facsimile ed., introd. Joseph Filonowicz, 1991, Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, ISBN 9780820114552.
  • David Walford's edition of "An Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit." A selection of material from Toland's 1699 edition and an interesting introduction by the editor.

For his relations to the religious, art and theological controversies of his day, see:
  • John Leland
    John Leland (Presbyterian)
    John Leland was an English Presbyterian minister and author of theological works.Leland was born in Wigan, Lancashire on October 18, 1691. He was educated in Dublin, Ireland , and went into the ministry there. He received his Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1739. His...

    , View of the Principal Deistical Writers
  • V. Lechler, Geschichte des Englischen Deismus
  • John Hunt
    John Hunt
    John Hunt may refer to:*John Hunt , Quaker minister, originally from London, England, and one of the "Virginia Exiles"*John Hunt , Quaker minister and journalist from Moorestown, New Jersey...

     (1870-3), Religious Thought in England, from the Reformation to the end of last century
  • Edward Chaney (2000), George Berkeley's Grand Tours: The Immaterialist as Connoisseur of Art and Architecture, in E. Chaney, The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations since the Renaissance, 2nd ed. London, Routledge
  • C. J. Abbey and J. H. Overton, The English Church in the Eighteenth Century
  • Adam Storey Farrar (1863), Critical History of Free Thought in Reference to the Christian Religion (Bampton Lectures 1862 )
  • Gustav Zart, Einfluss der englischen Philosophen seit Bacon auf die deutsche Philosophie des 18ten Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1881).

External links