Newman’s Disc. 8: conscience is more than a moral taste or sentiment

Modern relativism replaces moral truth with so-called moral preferences (or taste).

Newman criticizes the Religion of Reason and its followers, who “made their own minds their sanctuary, their own ideas their oracle, and conscience in morals was but parallel to genius in art, and wisdom in philosophy.” To illustrate this he describes the life of the Roman Emperor, Julian, the Apostate:

“His simplicity of manners, his frugality, his austerity of life, his singular disdain of sensual pleasure, his military heroism, his application to business, his literary diligence, his modesty, his clemency, his accomplishments, as I view them, go to make him one of the most eminent specimens of pagan virtue which the world has ever seen.” Before his death he praised his own career, disavowed any wrongdoing or remorse, and foretold his future blessedness.

“Such, Gentlemen,” Newman writes “is the final exhibition of the Religion of Reason: in the insensibility of conscience, in the ignorance of the very idea of sin, in the contemplation of his own moral consistency, in the simple absence of fear, in the cloudless self-confidence, in the serene self-possession, in the cold self-satisfaction, we recognize the mere Philosopher.”

Gibbons, the English historian, and Lord Shaftesbury claim that Christians rob virtue of its beauty. According to them Christians act, not out of virtue, but out for the sake of reward or out of servile fear.

Shaftesbury writes: “There is no more of rectitude, piety, or sanctity, in a creature thus reformed, than there is meekness or gentleness in a tiger strongly chained, or innocence and sobriety in a monkey under the discipline of the whip.” Shaftesbury falsely claims that Christianity is the enemy of moral virtue because it influences the mind by fear of good rather the love of good. Furthermore he holds that the principle which determines virtue is not conscience but taste (or sentiment), and that there is a good taste and a wrong taste. For him, truth and virtue consist in beauty whereas falsehood and vice constitute deformity.

Newman notes that these are half-truths: “conscience is most certainly a moral sense, but it is more; vice again, is a deformity, but it is worse.” He agrees with Lord Shaftesbury that a “simple and solitary fear cannot effect a moral conversion” yet notes the “difficulty in proving that any real conversion follows from a doctrine which makes virtue a mere point of good taste, and vice vulgar and ungentlemanlike.”

 

 

 

 

 

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