Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Explain in some detail what Price means when he indicates that right and wrong are in the objects themselves, and it is necessarily true that actions have moral value.

    Evaluate carefully Price's assumption that all actions have a nature. This assumption is the basis for his concluding right and wrong are not subjectively dependent upon the nature of mind. Since Price's main assertion that morality is absolute (i.e., "is eternal and immutable") follows the truth of this assumption, how can this claim be justified?

  2. Explain what Price means when he explains that the ideas of right and wrong arise from the power of immediate perception of the understanding. How does his account of moral ideas arising from intuition differ from what have been described by other moralists as either moral ideas arising from sensation or moral ideas arising as the innate ideas of conscience?

  3. Adam Smith argues that the distinction between right and wrong is not due to reason but is instead based on immediate sense and feeling:

    [R]eason cannot render any particular object either agreeable or disagreeable to the mind for its own sake. Reason may shew that this object is the means of obtaining some other which is naturally either pleasing or displeasing, and in this manner may be render it either agreeable or disagreeable, for the sake of something else. But nothing can be agreeable or disagreeable for its own sake, which is not rendered such by immediate sense and feeling. If virtue, therefore in every particular instance, necessarily pleases for its own sake, and if vice as certainly displeases the mind, it cannot be reason, but immediate sense and feeling ,which in this manner reconciles us to the one and alienates us from the other.[1]

    How do you think Richard Price would answer Adam Smith's argument?

  4. How does Price's argument in this reading refute Francis Hutcheson's claim that right and wrong are known by the immediate perception of an "implanted sense" from God. Explain the differences between Price's account of the intuition of moral ideas by the faculty of the understanding and Hutcheson's account of the perception of moral ideas felt through the faculty of the moral sense. Hutcheson argues just as we perceive sensible qualities such as color, sound, and odor by external sense so also we perceive moral qualities as feelings of pleasure by the internal sense of the understanding. He writes, "The pleasure in our sensible perceptions of any kind, gives us our first idea of natural good,"[2] whereas the pleasure from human action from gives us the first idea of moral good[3] How do both of these accounts differ from the theory that the notions of right and wrong are innate?

  5. Discuss carefully how Price might respond to John Balguy's claim that "The dictates and directions of right reason are the very rule which the Deity Himself inviolably observes, and which therefore must needs affect all intelligent creatures."[4]

    Explain whether or not Price's objection to the divine command theory applies to (1) the formulation whereby moral good is coincident with what God commands (thus what is good and what God commands happens to coincide), (2) the formulation whereby moral good is identical with what God commands, and finally (3) the formulation whereby moral good means what God commands.

  6. How do you think Price could respond to the following argument by Martin Luther supporting theological voluntarism by an infinite regress argument:

    He is God, and for his will there is no cause of reason than can be laid down as a rule or measure for it, since there is nothing equal or superior to it, but it is itself the rule of all things. For if there were any rule or standard for it, either as cause or reason, it could no longer be the will of God. For it is not because he is or was obliged so to will that what he wills is right, but on the contrary, because he himself so wills, therefore what happens [or is commanded] must be right. Cause and reason can be assigned for a creature's will, but not for the will of the Creator, unless you set up over him another creator.[5]

    Discuss whether or not Luther's argument is a petitio principii.

  7. In Price's argument concluding all actions have a nature and rightness or wrongness is "essentially true of them", evaluate the evidence for this premise:

    [I]f no actions are, in themselves either right or wrong, or any thing of a moral and obligatory nature, which can be an object to the understanding; it follows that, in themselves, they are all indifferent.

    Does Price assume in his argument all actions having a nature the essence of all actions is based on the essential properties of the polar concepts or right and wrong[6] Consequently, in any description of the essence of human action, no distinctions can be drawn among morally indifferent actions? Or is he assuming no distinctions can be drawn among actions upon which moral categories do not apply? Does he equivocate in his use of the word, "indifferent"?

  8. Price purports to establish that ethical principles are necessarily true, and right and wrong denote the nature or essence of actions. How, then, can Price account for the ethical disagreement among people?

  9. At the beginning of his argument against the existence of a moral sense being the origin of our ideas of right and wrong, Price argues, "Again, it is plain that one sense cannot judge of the objects of another; the eye, for instance, of harmony, or the ear of colours. The faculty therefore which views and compares the objects of all the senses, cannot be sense." Do you think the phenomenon of synesthesia raises a substantial objection to the conclusion that different kinds of sense impressions cannot be discriminated by one specific sensory process. Research psychologists have studied visual, tactile, taste, and auditory synesthesias where the stimulation of one sense is involuntarily linked to a different sense. The phenomenon is not unusual, and according to researchers V. S. Ramachandran and E. M. Hubbard, synesthesia is seven times more common in creative people than in the general population:[7]

    Synesthesia … is a condition in which otherwise normal people experience the blending of two or more senses. … As scientists explore the mechanisms involved in synesthesia, they are also learning about how the brain in general processes sensory information and uses it to make abstract connection between seemingly unrelated inputs.[8]

    Given the presence of some form or synesthesia in one out of twenty persons, would it be fair to conclude we cannot rule out the possibility of the existence of a moral faculty of sense which evaluates the content of sense impressions?

  10. Evaluate whether or not Price's argument for ethical absolutism is a petitio principii. He claims since, necessarily, no one can judge the moral differences of actions unless actions intrinsically are right or wrong, ethical absolutism is proved:

    In short, it seems sufficient to overthrow any scheme, that such consequences, as the following, should arise from it: That no one begin can judge … a real moral difference between actions, with giving his assent to to an impossibility; without mistaking … sensation for knowledge. …

    The following important corollary arises from these arguments:

    That morality is eternal and immutable.

    That is, does the argument in this excerpt supporting ethical absolutism assume the very conclusion it attempts to prove?

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Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1969), 470-1.


Francis Hutcheson, Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, (Adamat Media, 2001), 113.


Ibid, 117.


John Balguy, Foundation of Moral Goodness selection in L.A. Selby-Bigge, British Moralists, Being Selections from Writers Principally of the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897), II, 188.


Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, in E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson, eds, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969), 236-7.


Polar concepts are expressed by terms which only have meaning by being contrasted with one another. Eds.


V. S. Ramachandran and E. M. Hubbard, "Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes," in Scientific American, 292 no. 4 (May 2003): 57.


Ibid, 53.