The British Moralists on Human Nature and the Birth of Secular Ethics

Cambridge University Press
February 2011

From the publisher:

Uncovering the historical roots of naturalistic, secular contemporary ethics, in this volume Michael Gill shows how the British moralists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries completed a Copernican revolution in moral philosophy. They effected a shift from thinking of morality as independent of human nature to thinking of it as part of human nature itself. He also shows how the British Moralists - sometimes inadvertently, sometimes by design - disengaged ethical thinking, first from distinctly Christian ideas and then from theistic commitments altogether. Examining in detail the arguments of Whichcote, Cudworth, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson against Calvinist conceptions of original sin and egoistic conceptions of human motivation, Gill also demonstrates how Hume combined the ideas of earlier British moralists with his own insights to produce an account of morality and human nature that undermined some of his predecessors' most deeply held philosophical goals.


"This approach offers an uninterrupted presentation of the historical story, while still tendering to those interested in the many contemporary debates material for their consideration. I give this book a hearty recommendation for anyone with even a passing interest in the history of ethics. One need not be a scholar on these matters to enjoy and benefit from reading it....Michael Gill's book is also indispensable for the scholar. I find myself in awe of his accomplishments here, and his book will undoubtedly be a touchstone for future discussions of early modern moral thought."
Elizabeth S. Radcliffe Nortre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Gill leads us to revise our understanding of the opposition between 'rationalism' and 'sentimentalism'...On the philological level, the work is very well documented and argued."
Laurent Jaffro, Journal of the History of Philosophy

"Gill's discussion is consistently lucid and insightful, examining difficult texts with a deft hand that rarely labors over the subject matter."
18th Century Scotland, Daniel Carey, National University of Ireland- Galway

ISBN: 9780521184403