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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

David Hartley

Hartley - extracts

DAVID HARTLEY, M.D., 1705-1757.
(text from the 2nd edition, 1896, scanned by )

CELEBRATED as the earliest English writer of the Utilitarian school of Morals. At the age of fifteen—up to the middle of the last century it was no unusual age for matriculation at the Universities—he entered Jesus College, Cambridge, of which he afterwards was elected a Fellow. Scruples of conscience deterred him from signing the "Thirty-nine Articles," and, debarred from the clerical profession, he turned to Medicine, in which he reached considerable eminence.

His Observations on Man: his Frame, his Duties, and his Expectations appeared in 1748. The principal interest of the book consists in its containing the germs of that school of moral philosophy of which Hume, Paley, Bentham, and J. S. Mill have been the most able expositors. Hartley had imbibed the teaching of Locke upon the origin of ideas, which the great English metaphysician had founded in sensation and reflexion, in contradiction to the old innate theory. Although now universally accepted, at its first promulgation it met with as great opposition as all more reasonable ideas experience long after their introduction; and the controversy of Locke with the Bishop of Worcester, of the day, is matter of history.

It already has been stated that Hartley was the friend of Dr. Cheyne, whom he attended in his last illness, and he numbered among his acquaintances, some of the most eminent personages of the time. His disposition seems to have been singularly sincere and amiable: his theology, for the most part, of unsuspected orthodoxy. The better character of his religion, as well as of his philosophy, ap pears in his reflexions on kreophagy:—

"With respect to animal diet, let it be considered that taking away the lives of animals, in order to convert them into food, does great violence to tile principles of benevolence and compassion. This appears from the frequent hard-heartedness and cruelty found among those persons whose occupations engage them in destroying animal life, as well as from the uneasiness which others feel in beholding the butchery of animals. It is most evident in respect to the larger animals and those with whom we have a familiar intercourse—such as Oxen, Sheep, and domestic Fowls, &c.—so as to distinguish, love, and compassionate individuals. They resemble us greatly in the make of the body, in general, and in that of the particular organs of circulation, respiration, digestion, &c.; also in the formation of their intellects, memories, and passions, and in the signs of distress, fear, pain, and death. They often, likewise, win our affections by the marks of peculiar sagacity, by their instincts, helplessness, innocence, nascent benevolence, &c., and, if there be any glimmering hope of an 'hereafter' for them—if they should prove to be our brethren and sisters in this higher sense—in immortality as well as mortality, in the permanent principle of our minds as well as in the frail dast of our bodies—this ought to be still further reason for tenderness for them.

"This, therefore, seems to be nothing else"—he concludes—"than an argument to stop us in our career, to make us sparing and tender in this article of food, and to put us upon consulting experience more faithfully and impartially, in order to determine what is most suitable to the purposes of life and health—our companion being made, by the foregoing considerations, in some measure, a balance to our impetuous bodily appetites." (1)


  1. Observations on Man II. 3. Dr. Hartley is not the only writer on theology, or metaphysics, who has put forward the possibility, or probability, of continued existence for the non human races, whether in whole, or in part. The famous author of The Analogy of Religion, his contemporary, it is well known, indulged the same speculation. This question must be left to the theologians. All that is necessary here to remark is, that to Hartley is due the distinction of being one of the (small) minority of metaphysical, writers who have had the logic of their opinions to make the inevitable deduction.

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index