George Fitzhugh on Morality & Philosophy

“Man’s instincts, except that of sucking, are not born with him, but furnished to him by nature as fast as he
needs them. He walks instinctively without a knowledge of anatomy, or of the laws of mechanic forces, and
sees discriminatingly without having learned the science of optics, and learns to talk before he learns grammar
or lexicography. He does not go out to search for knowledge as do scholars, logicians and philosophers, but
knowledge comes to him unsought and without reflection. His judgments and opinions are not the results of
logical induction or deduction, but are intuitively and unconsciously forced upon him by extraneous causes.
Every one must have observed that the most judicious and practical men are generally those who can give
no reasons for their judgments and opinions, or who give wrong ones. It is mere instinct that controls the
conduct of such men, or at least a large percentage of instinct and a very slight one of reason.”
– George Fitzhugh, Moral Philosophies, page: 2, 1867

“The selfish and social feelings are equally vicious and noxious when indulged to excess, equally virtuous, useful and
healthful when the balance or counterpoise between them is properly adjusted, regulated and preserved. We hold,
then, that the proposed anti-selfish system is, relatively, true-positively, false. True, so long as it holds divided sway
and dominion with free trade, or selfish philosophy. False, the moment it drives the selfish system out of the field of
morals and exercises undivided power. For selfishness, or regard and care of self, is quite as needful and obligatory
a human duty, as social feeling or anti-selfishness, which regards and takes care of others. The individual would
perish without the selfish feeling and action. Society would cease to exist without the social affections, and the
charities. that proceed from those affections. The moral and the physical worlds are governed and controlled by
innumerable antinomes or opposing, yet co-operative laws or forces. Man’s nature is half selfish, half social, and
moral duty consists in moderating the excesses of either of these feelings or propensities, and in adjusting and
preserving a proper balance between them. No exact or universal rules can be laid down for ascertaining, adjusting
and preserving the proper balance between the infinitely numerous, minute and subtle antinomes that sustain
vegetable, animal and moral life; no line of universal and unvarying truth or rectitude has ever been, or ever
will be discovered in the vegetable, animal or moral kingdom-in agriculture, medicine, law or ethics. In morals
we are continually running from one excess to the opposite excess, continually crossing the line of truth and
rectitude, but never treading it, because we can never know when we have arrived at it. Yet we all know when
we have departed and wandered far from this line, and should try to return as near as possible to it-satisfied
with proximate truth, since we never can attain absolute, universal, unvarying truth.”
– George Fitzhugh, Moral Philosophies, page: 6, 1867

“We will not attempt to define the line that separates instinct from reason, but agree with Falstaff, “that instinct is a
great thing,” a much greater, more useful and necessary thing than ever-erring and deceptive reason. The animal
man, like other animals, might sustain life without the faculty of reason. Without his instincts he would perish. It
seems to us that most of our habitual actions, proceeding at first from reason, reflection and calculation become
in time, by continued practice, instinctive and independent of volitions. We eat, we poise ourselves in walking or
riding. We touch the keys of the piano, and perform on other musical instruments instinctively, after long practice.”
– George Fitzhugh, Moral Philosophies, page: 3, 1867

“We believe that vital, heart-felt religion is essential to the full development and maturation of human character.
We do not think that man can reason his way through life, because every thing that he sees and meets with in
the path of life is above and incomprehensible to his reason. He must feel his way, guided by instincts, purified
by religious faith and sentiment. Religion is the keystone of the arch of human passions, emotions, affections,
faculties, propensities, etc., that keeps them all in place, and by moderating their excesses, makes them all
conducive to the good of the individual and to the good of society.”
– George Fitzhugh, Moral Philosophies, pages: 7-8, 1867

“Evil is but excess of good. There is nothing good or evil in itself, in the abstract. Opposing, antagonistic powers
and principles sustain the physical and the moral world. Thus undue preponderance of any one principle or power
constitutes evil, and brings on decay and death. Good is but the just equilibrium between opposing qualities or
powers. In the moral and the physical world, everything is good, when duly balanced and proportioned, in combination
and in the concrete. Nothing exists, or can exist, in the abstract; there is, therefore, nothing good or evil in itself.
We don’t think with Pope, that “whatever is, is right.” There is always, with men, a. tendency to excess, and
consequent wrong. But we must not try to expel anything that is natural. All of man’s passions, appetites, feelings
and propensities were given to him for good, wise and necessary purposes; they are none evil when not excessively
indulged; and moral duty is performed when we balance them properly, not by eradicating any of them.”
– George Fitzhugh, History of the Origin of Representative Government in Europe, page: 9, 1866

“In the physical as in the moral world, excess is evil, nay poisonous, and destructive of life. Feed man or
any other animal on one kind of food for a length of time, and it will kill him. Not because it is given in
large quantities, but because it is given without its anti-nomes, that is, food possessing opposite qualities.
Everything in the moral and in the physical world is evil in itself, evil in the abstract, for then it exists in the
greatest possible excess. Everything is good in the concrete, when properly compounded or balanced by
its appropriate antinomes. It certainly takes two or more, nay very many, wrongs to make a right. The
homely phrase, ” overly good,” is an admirable one, and should be adopted into polite language, for it
is needed, and we know none other that will supply its place. Alen are eternally riding moral hobbies,
practising to excess, and pushing to extremes, some one virtue to the neglect of all others. Such men
become conscientious villains, the worst, most dangerous and most mischievous of all villains.”
– George Fitzhugh, Terribly in Earnest, page: 1, 1866

“There is no rule without exceptions. Rules are the inductions and results of reason. Human reasoning on all moral subjects,
and on whatever relates to human, animal and vegetable life and health. is based on partial, and therefore false premises.
From all but the eye of Omniscience, the first causes of social, animal and vegetable life’ are hidden, and must ever so remain;
for the finite can never comprehend the infinite, the creature, never understand creation. On these subjects the deductions
or results of human reasoning: proceeding from imperfect and therefore false premises, must be false like the premises on
which they are based; hence the maxim, ” There is no rule without exceptions.” Truth mixed with false-hood, ceases to be
truth, and becomes untruth. There are no true rules. Reason is never, on the subjects of which we are treating, a safe and
practical guide, for its teachings, or rules are, confessedly, liable to exceptions, against which it can make no provision.
Whatever is reasonable is false. In other words, “There is no rule without exceptions.”
– George Fitzhugh, Antinomic Pathology, Pages: 1-2, 1863

“The man, firm and tenacious of purpose, with some one great aim or object before him, which he
kept always in sight, and continually pursued, through good report and ill report, through prosperity
and adversity, through sunshine and through storm, with steady, cautious, resolute, determined
step, such a man used to be considered the model of his kind. “Nulla vestigia retrorsum,” or, as
the Yankees say, “be sure you are right-then go ahead,” used to be thought the best moral maxim
for youth. Both inculcate the doctrine of “one idea.” On the other hand. we have abundance of old
saws and sayings, warning us to beware of too many ideas-“Jack of all trades and good at none”
-“Too many irons in the fire”-“The rolling stone never gathers moss,” &c.”
– George Fitzhugh, One Idea, pages: ​1-2, 1861

“The great defect of modern philosophy is, that it attributes all human actions to selfish motives. The political
economists originated the theory, and Paley followed them. Man’s character is not one-sided, and he as often
errs by loving what is without too much, as by loving self too much. Generosity, extravagance, undue indulgence
of children, slaves, and other dependants, as well as love of pets, are the results of our benevolent affections,
of our outward nature, of anti-selfishness. We are as liable (in the common sense of terms) to be too good, as
too bad, as apt to sacrifice our own interests to promote the interests of others, as to injure others to advance
our own good. Education has not only to correct selfishness, but to teach us what is due to ourselves, as well
as to others; especially to teach us how criminal it is to indulge our affections on unworthy objects.”
– George Fitzhugh, Blackwood, page: 4, 1860

“Man is a social, not a selfish animal. All social animals, herds, laves, flocks, &c., must needs love one another
-must live for one another-must practise the golden rule. The bee does it, the ant and the beaver do it; and man,
bad as he sometimes is, lives for society; for others as much as for self. Isolated and individualized, he is the
most helpless of animals; but, living in society, and practising the golden rule, he is stronger and more powerful
than all other animals combined. This rule is no paradox, no absurdity, but the corner-stone of a sound philosophy,
and the key-stone of the arch that sustains society. It is a perfect and comprehensive definition of moral duty;
and to expound, expand, and apply it, is the sole province of ethical philosophy.”
– George Fitzhugh, Blackwood, page: 7, 1860

“Seeing is Believing,” the first article in the October No., is a labored and logical attempt to expose the fallacious
reasoning of the spiritualists. The essay is an able one, and probably the argument quite as good as the subject
admits. But it is impossible to make a good argument in a very good cause; impossible to make that clearer, which
to most readers is self-evident; impossible to demonstrate what is axiomatic. All reasoning, all demonstration proceeds
to deduce propositions that are less evident, from those that are more evident. If it do not thus proceed, it is not
reasoning at all. The best dialectician, if called at mid-day, when the sky was dear, to prove that the sun was shining,
would find himself at a loss for an argument; but any metaphysician could demonstrate that it was not shining. “The
shining of the sun” is an idea of your mind, but an idea of your mind is not the sun, and as you cannot show that the
sun exists, but only that your idea exists, of course you cannot prove that it shines. You hold the affirmative and
stand convicted, because you fail to prove your proposition. But I will go farther and prove a negative. You admit
the idea, that the sun is shining, exists in your mind. That is enough to account for the phenomenon; you must
not infer another cause for a phenomenon already sufficiently accounted for. You admit “the shining of the sun”
to be an ” idea;” this precludes you from proving it to be “a fact.”
– George Fitzhugh, Blackwood, page: 2, 1860

“Our outward affections are as natural as our selfishness, and their unwise or undue indulgence is as criminal
as too much selfishness. We should “love our neighbor as ourselves,” but not more than ourselves. What we
call virtues become vices, when carried to excess. ‘Tis right to love our children, our relatives, friends and neighbors,
our slaves and servants, our domestic animals; our fields, our gardens, our houses and homes, but it is criminal
to misdirect our affections, and to love most what is farthest off and least deserves love. He who exhausts his
benevolent affections on a poodle or a terrier, and neglects his neighbors is as silly, contemptible, and criminal
a character as a Lord Broughham, who lets millions of Englishmen die yearly around him from physical want,
and is only zealous to ameliorate the condition of cannibal negroes. Brougham loves strong stimulants, and
feels and sympathizes only for cannibals and murderers.”
– George Fitzhugh, Blackwood, page: 4, 1860

“Religion, a church government of some sort, and a priesthood, stand first among the instinctive and aboriginal
institutions of men. They seem always to have prevailed in some form, more or less distinctly developed, among
all races of men. They always play an important part in government. They bind and attach men to each other,
take care of the lesser morals, which human laws cannot reach, purify the heart, the seat of action, and teach
respect and obedience to political government and human rulers, as a part of religious sentiment and religious
duty, just as reverence, prayer, and worship, are due to Deity, the Supreme Ruler. If human government be
not an emanation of religion, at least, experience shows, that religion is essential to its support.”
– George Fitzhugh, The Declaration of Independence and the Republican Party, page: 4, 1860

“There is not a mother, white, negro, or Indian, in all America, who is not perfect master of political economy, or
rather of social economy, within her own sphere of action; not a scholar, philosopher, or statesman, in the world,
who comprehends, or ever will comprehend, its true, national, political, and world-wide applications; yet the principles
of the science are identically alike with the mother and the statesman. Protect, nurse, the child, nation, or community,
until it is old enough, big enough, smart enough, skillful enough, to take care of itself, to compete with the world; then,
and not till then, it is fitted for the war of the wits; then, turn it loose, to cheat “all man-kind and the rest of the world.” A
mother knows when, and how long, to practise the protective system, and when to send out the sharp youth to practise
free trade, or the war of the wits system. Free trade, and protection, are equally true; the practical pathologist, and the
sagacious, instinctive mother (woman’s instincts never err), only know when to apply the one, when the other. We have
long since learned that there is nothing so very true; at least, no truths which the human mind can comprehend and
follow out, in all their ramifications, and to their whole extent. Hence, all systems of philosophy are of necessity false;
and hence, we intend, when we have leisure and sufficient encouragement, to write a treatise on “Moral Pathology.”
– George Fitzhugh, The Old Dominion-The Valley of the Rappahannock, page: 15, 1859

“At present, the world has but one philosophy, and that teaches that trade is the only good thing, and that government
has no duty but “laissez faire,”-let it alone. Letting it alone begets panics, and has well nigh brought ruin on those
countries who practise the system. On this subject, as on all others, the world needs a moral pathology, that shall
watch symptoms, restrain excesses, and try to attain that “juste mi lien,” in which alone truth is found. Political
economy, and every other system of philosophy that has preceded it, are mere charlatanic panaceas, that reduce
all moral diseases to one, and propose to cure them by a single remedy. Men love simplification, and are never
satisfied with a medicine, or a theory in morals, that is not a specific in all cases. Yet, every farmer knows that each
plant he rears, is ” wonderfully and fearfully formed,” and that there is no mode of treatment or culture, no fertilizer,
which, applied at the wrong time, or applied in excess, will not prove noxious and destructive. How much more
“wonderfully and fearfully” is society formed than the plant. How delicats, how complex, how incomprehensible,
its whole organism and operations! Its only philosophy is found in the words of Solomon: “There is a time for all
things.” We oannot foretell or forestall the coming time, nor prescribe beforehand for its treatment, but only
practise on the social phenomena as they arise. This is moral pathology, not philosophy.”
– George Fitzhugh, Trade and Panics, Pages: 163-164, 1859

“The Greeks surpassed all who have succeeded them in the art of sculpture, and no doubt in painting also.
There has been no advance, no improvement, in the science of politics, of ethics, of economies, of pure meta
-physics, or of logic, since the time of Aristotle; and one of the fruits, and best fruits, of the social and political
reaction, which is now progressing, will be the revival of the study of Aristotle. The pretended discoveries of
Bacon, in the art, of logic, was but the giving names to things, that every one, who reasoned at all, had been
practising throughout all time. What Butler says of rhetoric is equally true of logic: “For all the Rhetoricians rules
But teach to name his tools.” Though “reading and writing (do not) come by nature,” the art of reasoning does;
and there is not a county court in the Union at whose bar there is not a better practical logician than Bacon
or Aristotle. In medical science and in agriculture the world seems to have been stationary for two thousand
years; for crops have not improved, the implements of agriculture scarcely changed at all, and the labor of
farming and of rearing agricultural products has not been lessened. We have no reliable evidence that
human mortality is less now than in the days of the remotest antiquity.”
– George Fitzhugh, The Atlantic Telegraph, page: 1-2, 1858

“Poetry, oratory, and historical and biographical writing, have chiefly to do with man, his passions, affections, motives,
and pursuits, and with external nature-in these there has been no change for two thousand years. Men end external
nature, as they now exist, are better described in the Old Testament than by the latest poet or novelist. As no new
phenomena have arisen, or can arise, there is no chance of improvement in this direction, unless some one should
arise superior in intellectual capacity to the ancients. But no one lies appeared, or will appear, who will equal them,
because the simplicity of their mode of living gave them time for concentrated and continuous thought, and uninterrupted
attention. Homer and Milton, two of the greatest poets, were blind; and probably owed much of their greatness to
their blindness, which enabled them the better to absorb their thoughts in reflections on the subjects on which they
wrote. There is a useful moral in the small house of Socrates and the tub of Diogenes. They wished to exclude all
bores and troublesome visitors, who would interrupt their philosophical studies, break their chain of thought, and
divert their attention. Modern discoveries and inventions, aided by the resistless caprices of fashion, have introduced
such a multitude of artificial wants, that half of the time of most men, however rich, is employed in supplying those
wants, and the other half haunted with plans and schemes to supply them. The greater simplicity of the lives of the
ancients is quite sufficient to account for their intellectual superiority. We have unpremeditatedly anticipated the
suggestions we intended to offer on the want of progress in the sciences of pure Meta-physics, Politics, Ethics,
and Economics. These, too, have to do with man, his habits and customs, passions and propensities, and with the
faculties, organization, and operation of his mind. Here experience has added nothing to the stock of knowledge
-no new phenomena have appeared-for man, today, is in mind and body as like man of three thousand years ago,
as the hens’ eggs of the days of Pharoah were to those layed yesterday”
– George Fitzhugh, The Atlantic Telegraph, page: 3-4, 1858

“There is a remarkable similarity in the system of policy adopted by the Romans, in the administration
and disposition of their public lands, and that employed by ourselves, for the same purposes. We have
unconsciously followed their example, without imitating or copying them. Like circumstances and necessities,
acting upon civilized peoples, have produced like effects-showing the identity of human nature in all
ages, and that the works of man, like those of bees, ante and other inferior animals, are the prompting
of instinct, or the impulsions of Providence, rather than the results of reasoning.”
– George Fitzhugh, Public Lands of Rome and America, page: 1, 1858

“The thing that hath been, is that which shall be and that which is done, is that which shall be done
and there is no new thing under the sun.” Man’s moral and intellectual nature has neither improved
nor deteriorated from the time that history gives any account of his doings. Despite of the experience
of the past, he re-enacts the same follies now that he acted three thousand years ago. Each individual,
and each generation, has to buy, not borrow, its experience. The denunciations of the Hebrew Prophets,
and the ridicule of the Greek and Roman Satirists, neither arrested the crimes and follies which they
depict, nor prevented succeeding generations from perpetrating those very same crimes and follies,
despite the warnings of history, the fellow-beings with whom we daily associate, are better described
by Moore’s and Solomon’s Homer and Horace, than by the latest novelist.”
– George Fitzhugh, Black Republicanism in Ancient Athens, page: 1-2, 1857

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