Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Paul Brown, Gray Light, I-IV (1825-1826)


By "$" [Paul Brown]

(From The New-Harmony Gazette, Dec. 21, 1825-Jan. 10, 1827)

For the New-Harmony Gazette.


The inception and first instance of any mode, when not immediately perceived, is not an object of intuition or demonstrative knowledge. Such as that of the commencing of a customary way of subsisting, among the individuals of a race of animals with whatever degree of intelligence endued, must be abstracted to the most general sense, before it can be an object of assurance. To go to particulars, as of time, words, &c., is to carry the subject into the province of fiction. If we take into our purport the ideas of the names or shapes of persons,—the place where and the time when, i. e. the number of revolutions of the earth since, such a circumstance took place, as the herding together of several individuals of the human species, or the consociating of two individuals of that species, we cannot make the proposition an object of assurance, by the scale of a dialectic process. True logic excludes sophistry. It detects it. It condemns it. That a man and a woman have existed in time past in a state of society, is a conclusive inference from what we at present have knowledge of. But whether that man and woman had existed always ever since matter existed, or, having generated from other individuals, the same species has existed in the same forms ever since matter exists, we can never have certainty; though perhaps we can have assurance that they have not; inasmuch as organic combinations of particles of substance have been discovered to be in a progressive state of refining alteration, and seeming advancement towards perfection.

Some reckon there existing now such beings as mankind, and they not having power to create or produce particles or masses of matter de novo, proves demonstratively that they had a beginning; that there was a time when they began to exist. The very ideas in this proposition, are extremely obscure. It cannot be made altogether clear, for the beginning of a substance is scarcely comprehensible. It is only a new combination, of things already existing, that we conceive of, under the predicament of producing, causing to exist, or commencing to be. But I say, these fact do not prove the thing demonstratively; although they may carry us as far as assurance.—These and some other considerations, may, in regard to the commencing of the species, possibly carry our evidence up as far as a rational ground of assurance, and no farther. Nevertheless; that at this or that particular spot on earth at such a particular number of years past, A, and B, or individuals of some given names, commenced the human family, and were the first individuals of that species that ever existed, or the first that ever lived together, is evidently a sort of proposition which cannot be proven to so high a degree of faith as assurance. It is an object of a lower degree of faith as assurance. It is an object of a lower degree of faith. The evidence cannot be carried so high as the proper graduated ground of full assurance. I speak with reference to the standing state of things. I do not say it is impossible for a proposition of such nature to be an object of knowledge. There is, perhaps, nothing so repugnant in the thing as to warrant that conclusion. But, in the present state of human science, the present predicament of our capacities of intellect, the state of the world at large, one generation passing away and another coming, one nation falling, and another rising into its place, all records and vestiges of the past either accidentally coming to ruin or continually decaying,—I say such a proposition cannot be an object of knowledge, neither can it be an object of assurance. But take away the particulars and let it be a general proposition, take it in a large sense, as merely there was a beginning of the formation of society, and it may be an object of assurance. But I don’t see that we can any nearer demonstrate the beginning of society than the end of it; that it had a beginning, than that it will have an end.

The very earliest simplest state of society, and that which must have had place first, before any other, is that of a single family. But this concerns the state or condition of society; not society itself. There might be fifty different families beginning at the same moment. Indeed we com originally into society, and not into solitude. Some people seem to think that man in a state of nature, is solitary; that society is the product of deliberate compact; and that before any society was formed by an act of agreement on the parts of individuals voluntarily uniting themselves together, that those individuals lived detached and in a state of solitude, without the knowledge of any affinity or connection. If these same people were to be questioned concerning the original of these individuals, and asked how they came into existence, I fancy they would be a little puzzled to give an answer that should exclude the idea of the common and known mode of traduction, inasmuch as it does not appear to have been recorded that more than one man was made of mud; withal, as it is difficult to conceive of a human creature being formed, with power of propagation, of a mass of brute earth; because it is contrary to our experience and observation.

In the ordinary course of things, man is born into a state of society. This agrees with our constant observation and experience. He is in a state of society the moment he comes into the world. But how does he come into the world!—not like a vegetable; surely he does not spring up like a mushroom or an apple-tree: he comes forth like other animals. A society is a collection of individuals. No, a society may be small or great. The idea of a collection does not essentially include the idea of a definite or limited number. Therefore, a society may be small or great. If a thousand individuals are a society, three individuals are a society. One is comparatively a large society, and the other is a small society. And if three persons constitute a society, then two persons will constitute a society. The number must be more than one; and any number above that, is sufficient to make a society. Such is the original meaning of the word society; hence the significancy of those phrases in which the word imports no more than the assembly of two persons, as when, for example, one affirms he has no satisfaction in the society of some particular person he mentions:—or that he has more pleasure in such an individual’s society than in any other.

According to the present course of things, there is no effect without a cause. So no one is born without having, or having had, parents. Every one that lives, must have had a father and mother. The child that is born, and its mother, are three persons that constitute a society. If the father is dead, unknown, or living at a distance from the mother, when the child is born, then the child and the mother are two persons which constitute a society. If the mother dies at the moment the child sees the light, then the child and the person who nurses it, make the society. If they are in a situation detached from all others when the child is born an the mother dies, and it never sees any other human creature nor has any nurse, it is plain that individual is solitary while it lives. And this is the only case, in the present state of things, in which a person enters the world solitary.


We have seen that we have no certitude on the particulars of the first emergence of human society. The existence of such society being a fact; it appears, moreover, by history, to have been successively modified, with some diversity, on different parts of the earth.

Let us assume, then, there are three stages of human society, to which it has successively arrived, and in which different portions of mankind have continued for a considerable time, and given them a noted permanency; and that these three distinguished stages, according to their succession, are what may be called

1st. The savage state;

2d. The barbarian state;

3d. The civil state.

Not but that there are several degrees of advancement intervening between these permanent stages, discriminated by progressive accessions of skill and art. But, as I shall have occasion frequently to recur to these, with some use, I shall divide the advance of society by these periods. Not that because the stages of society are progressive, mankind have come successively though them from the time of society’s first beginning, and all living now rest in the civilized state; but in different places also are barbarians, and in other parts civilized, though they are far from being perfectly so. Perhaps there have been savage societies ever since the first formation of human society; but there cannot have been barbarian or civil societies so long, because in both the one and the other of these is implied some degree of advancement, and the state of improvement on the first experiment of this mode.

I. The first of these is the savage state; so called, though the first advance towards the cultivation of talents, is the herbivorous state, or that wherein men live upon such fruits, roots, barks, and herbs, as by chance fall in their way and which they can gather with little effort, and have not a habit of killing living creatures. In this, no collection of mankind appears by existing history, ever to have continued any very considerable length of time. This perhaps is the first character in which the social man appears; an evidently is the same in some respects as that which will take place when men shall become perfect. But this state of innocency not continuing so as to be very noticeable in any collection of human beings, is not distinguished from the savage state which therefore passes from the first stage of human society; because men, according to all the history we have, generally runs directly into this and stop in no other for any length of time immediately after they first associate together.

Savage signifies wild and uncultivated; it also signifies unfeeling. In this which is called the savage state, mankind follows hunting, i. e. they depend mostly for their sustenance, on what inferior animals they can destroy. They eat the flesh of animals, and wear their skins for covering. Both men and women have most of their employ about the obtaining and preparation of these things, though they make some use of vegetables that grow wild. They attain to a skill in the medical properties of herbs. They range the wide exuberant forests, and search for creatures that will afford them nourishment. They kill them with pointed arrows made with stone, or else take them by subtlety in snares and traps. They mostly hold what they get in common among the members of their family. The inhabitants of some parts of the earth have advanced to a higher degree of refinement; and in other parts they still remain in the savage state. People in this state are called savages, as if they were uncultivated; but they are somewhat cultivated, at least practiced in different exercises of mind; they are not what they were when they first began to associate together; for the first society that ever was formed, was a single family, similar to a pair of birds and nest of young. But they are called so as much on another account which is their being cruel, sanguinary, and unfeeling, in regard to other living creatures, inasmuch as they habitually kill them for sustenance (as bears and tigers kill the weaker species,) and make it their main occupation.—But they are not more so than a great part of the men in the civil or civilized state; a part of these make a trade of killing, and kill enough to sustain all the rest; and the rest are not so overstocked with sensuous feeling but they can aid those that kill; and drive their beasts to the slaughter. So that the civilized world are, still, as much savages in respect to the want of feeling towards the brute creation, as those who bear that name.

Under hunting I also include fishing. Those who live near the sea shore or near lakes and rivers, lay plans to take fishes, and these feed upon fishes as constantly as those who live in the interior of the forest do upon quadrupeds. But,

II. Man by gradual perfection in the knowledge of nature, through several successive degrees of improvement in his condition, interrupted often with illusions and distemperatures that lead him astray, arrives at another stage of society which is called the barbarian state. This is the second great period in the advance of society.

Men come at the conclusion that it is practicable to tame animals, and feeding them, to keep them within call: which was a desideratum that had obvious advantages, in the want of which they were subjected to intolerable labor always, yet uncertain of success. They made trial; and the experiment proved their conclusion true. When they got a habit of feeding and tending animals which were tamed, upon plots of natural meadow or prairie clear of wood, or having cleared away some of the thickness of the forest by the help of fire and their stone hatchets before they had yet learned the nature of iron, they were in what is called the barbarian state. This is principally distinguished by the tending and feeding of tame animals, and living upon their milk and flesh. Here men gradually refined methods to the extent of what it admits;—but it is some time before they begin to till the ground. Men continue, in some instances, for a considerable time in this state. They many attain to in my important discoveries in nature, though it is usual when they get acquainted with metals and minerals that they begin to till ground. They either live in hordes and families and consider all their wealth common to the members, or they begin to partition things and peculiarize them to the individuals who hold them, so that one has his horse, another his cow, another his sheep, &c, &c. But this hardly comes about while they are simple shepherds and herdsmen. It requires a perversion and a rash change of manners. But this does not take place as a general characteristic, till they advance into another stage of society. Many of the Tartars still live in this state; but these Tartars are of a roving character, ranging wherever they can find forage.

III. The third of these stages is when men have found the use of iron, and till the ground in addition to tending animals, and raise out of the earth profuse forage in a convenient compass, for all the flocks and herds; when they make themselves comfortable habitations; and when they proceed to cultivate all the arts:—as in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, the United States, &c. in modern times; and among the Romans, the Grecians, and the Egyptians, in times past. There are various degrees of refinement in these that are called civilized nations. The several degrees of advancement the arts and sciences have attained, have come up gradually, in process of successive ages. The benefits resulting secondarily from the appropriations of these arts and sciences, are participated by the body of the people; yet but a very diminutive proportion of the people understands them; especially the sublime arts and the liberal sciences. But these nations are not yet civilized. As nations, they fall far short of perfect civilization: Though a few individuals in each, have been civilized; yet the structure of their inured institutions has ever been such as to block up the course of improvement as it respects the whole; and it has been circumscribed to the few that have had a love of study and of truth, concurring with a sufficient magnanimity to despise inferior advantages. The mass of the people of Britain, rests at a very low point of civilization. Her Sidneys, her Lockes, her  Bacons, her Godwins, and others, have been civilized; but the mass of the people is very far behind this point. Of France, the Bayles, the Montesquieus, the Corneilles, the Condorcets, the Mirabeaus, the Voltaires, and the Bolneys, we may allow were civilized men. But this does not make that France was a civilized and happy country. The great mass of the commonalty was far from being perfectly civilized.

Tyranny and priestcraft have always kept the populace back from progressing in their civilization; and what has caused these, is the very structure of society itself, on the corrupt fatal principles of exclusive property.

A multitude of learned and ingenious men in Greece and Rome, were civilized men; but the bulk of the people of those countries had none of their refinement. All the arts and sciences are cultivated; yet there are but few masters. Only a small proportion of a nation, is master of these arts and sciences. The masters are those who have been capable of inventing the several successive improvements that have been superinduced, from time to time, and brought those arts and sciences to the degree of advancement they have arrived at in the most cultivated nation. Still it is an extreme diminutive part of the people, that has ever been addicted to intense thinking. If society had been rationally constituted, the people would have had equal opportunities to improve themselves; and their progress had been nearly uniform. Men had made regular progress in civilization, if they had set out upon right principles at first. What have interrupted and constricted civilization, are our corrupt institutions, and the customs and habits which they generate. Wherefore although civilization has regularly progressed in some few individuals in successive ages, who, by being early attached to meditation and impressed with a love of truth, have been prone to investigation; the great crowd of mankind are, in this respect, yet in their infancy.—Nevertheless, these few individuals have brought about comparatively great effects, in modifying the condition of their respective nations and eventually of the world, by way of those improvements in the arts and sciences to which their achievements gave rise; though it was very rare, that, during their lives, their labors were either respected or rewarded.

So much for society in general. We will next enquire after the source when that which is called evil, has come into the societies of our species; and embittered the stream of human existence.


The question of the origin of evil is one which has exercised the sagacity and invention of a multitude of philosophers during several ages; and so difficult and knotty a one it has prove to be, that many who have pursued different tracks of research to arrive at an ultimatum, have come to no satisfactory conclusion, but have been driven into a perpetual circle wherein after recurring from effect to cause, and rebounding from cause to effect, they have not been able to fix an overbalance of probability to a proposition making assignment of the beginning. Hence the discourses of some visionaries are without end, resting sometimes in one point of the circle and sometimes in another, and but temporarily in any.

The origin of evil has been said to be a subject immerged in so deep obscurity that men have in vain sought for it in the range of their natural ideas, but are fain to refer it to some point beyond the boundaries of nature itself. As often as this has been their resort, absurd enigmatical theories have been fabricated, in which the thoughts of men being fettered, were entangled in endless doubt; and improvement was stationary. But evident it is that many of those who have set out to explore this object, have overlooked it; and taken their aim at too great a distance. For vain is it to grasp at whatever is beyond the bourne of our comprehension; and to attempt to solve any question by such reference, is no solution of it at all; the question still remains unanswered.

Speaking of evil, general evil has commonly been meant, including both moral, and physical or sensitive. But I am apt to think, nothing of it properly called evil, but that which we call moral evil. For I do not consider what falls our in the course of nature; such as sensitive pain, death, &c. if rightly understood, and if known as what they would be without any connection with moral evil, and in the case no moral evil were in the world, to be evils. These necessary physical effects of physical causes established by the natural constitution of the great system of substances, in which we and all organized fabrics are inseparably intervolved, and of which we make a part, I don’t see that we can with strict propriety call evils, in themselves, unless we can invent, or conceive how a new system of Nature can be framed; and this we cannot, because we ourselves, with out capacity of comprehension and our thoughts, are a constituent of this present existing system. Besides, it is moral evil that makes these things appear evil. Take any moral evil, and they would scarcely be reckoned with.

But of moral evil I think it possible to find out the root: i. e. not mathematically,—but to a satisfactory assurance.

In particular instances of the same kind of operation and tendency, and production of like effects by like causes, we can attain to knowledge by experiment and observation; and this is of that sort of truths that is proved in a similar way with what naturalists use, in chemistry, medicine, and meteorology. They make use of facts; and reason by analogy. They take instances of a sort or kind, and from particulars infer general or universal propositions.

If we can find out any thing which we can suppose to be the origin of moral evil, if we can prove by existing facts presently experienced, that the same sort or kind, as a cause, does in particular instances invariably produce the same sort or kind of effect, we can make it appear rationally evident that that thing was the origin and first beginning of moral evil.

The origin of moral evil, then, appears to me to have been the distinction of property so as to peculiarize it and strongly associate it with personality; and the institution of what are called rights of exclusive possession of what was not wanted by the possessor, and was wanted by others. This all bangs together; and one part of it necessarily was in consequence of the other. This I call the origin of moral evil, in this sense, viz. it was the beginning of moral evil, and that which gave rise to all the higher degrees of moral evil which have since been experienced by mankind.

This is the beginning—but why should this beginning have taken place?—This is the root:—but what does this root generate from? What do the fibres of this root spring out of? Wherever is a root, must be or must have been, some principle from which it first germinate. There must be a seed.—This utmost primordium, is ignorance. It is man’s ignorance of causes and effects, and of the peculiar remote tendencies of things and actions. In short, his ignorance of nature. Here we need go no further. We need not ask why what is, is? We need not ask why man is man? Why a stone is a stone, or why air is air?—Here, where we come to the great land marks of our conception, if we begin talking in this way we talk like geese, and without end. For man is a progressive being. Not finished at the first moment, of his existence; but capable of learning something. Capable of getting knowledge; therefore not perfect in knowledge at first; else, he could not learn. Man is such a being as we find exists; and this is the meaning of the word man. We can perceive nothing more than exists; and we can signify nothing by words but what we perceive or have some ideas of. Man is not finished at first; but it is to learn knowledge to make him perfect. Therefore he is capable of ignorance. Before he gets knowledge, we must be ignorant of some things he is capable of knowing. He must be blind and hindered from knowledge, and remain ignorant for a long time.—It is ignorance of nature that makes him go astray from rectitude. His actions would not be at variance with the chain of causes that leads to his happiness, if he were not ignorant that such and such things would invariable and inevitably have such and such remote effects. Ignorance, then, is the original, the remote cause, beyond which we cannot trace any thing productive; and the institution of exclusive rights, which takes place in consequence of this ignorance, is the generative root of moral evil.

Wherever is a root, is room for a root to grow; and a reason why the root should be in that place. This root is man’s progressive nature; his incipient imperfection; the possibility of his being deluded and deficient of knowledge concerning the powers of nature;—and the reason is, his actually being ignorant.

But this active generative principle in which begins all moral evil, such as we are at present acquainted with, I conceive to be that partitioning and peculiarizing of property, whereby has been brought about the institution of those factitious rights of exclusive possession, which have demoralized the human race.

Now to the law and to the testimony.—The root of moral evil being assumed, that which is next required to be done, is to exhibit some specimens of its productions, which in their turn, as causes, propagate their kind, and eventually generate a diversity of misery.


If a piece of land lie in common, and numerous persons without exception make use of it and feed their cattle there, and some authority divides it among a select few who are to hold it exclusively and therefore shut out all others, it produces envy, hatred, a sense of oppression, &c.  If a court divides an estate unequally, and takes from one and gives to another, it produces hatred, ill will; produces envy in those deprived or excluded. If a court decides a cause against one for defect of some punctilio or form, or wrests testimony and takes him in a wrong sense, and gives the preference to the other party through favor, affection, deference to his superior wealth, or a desire to distinguish him with peculiar advantages by way of possession; it produces chagrin, ill will, malice, envy, distrust, &c. &c. If a  parent have a horse which he suffers his children to make use of in common whenever any one wants it, so they give way to one another and use it equally, it belonging to all; and he gives that horse to one favorite child to be his exclusive property, to have the sole control and disposal of it, with right to exclude all others; it produces displacency, anger, hatred, envy, murmuring,—it tends to ingratitude, and to sullenness, in the other children. All these things lead to purposes of revenge, and various disorders. If a man gets rich, and is successful in his pursuits generally, he has a still greater desire of wealth, he is avaricious; he desires and craves the more for having obtained abundance;—it produces avarice and hardheartedness. If a man gets to be extremely rich, and he sees he is respected and revered by others, that they are in awe of him, that they submit to him; it produces pride in him, and a domineering spirit. He tyrannizes; he becomes haughty and supercilious. All trading, and the possibility of getting gain by bartering and dealing of any kind, produces a desire of taking advantage of other individuals to get gain, produces a habit of watching for opportunities to get the best bargains, to frustrate and exclude others for the sake of getting the ascendant power and exclusive possession of things desired; produces overreaching, fraud, swindling, lying, forging, &c. All trade is a kind of gambling. Every one wishes to get the best end of a bargain. If one gets it, another loses. It tends to suppress sympathy. Those who thoughts are hackneyed in such speculations, have little feeling for others. Those who spend their lives in trading, as buying and selling, or gaming and horse racing, have little sympathy for their fellow-creatures. The education of children having a certain price set upon the tuition of each individual, to be paid to a preceptor, and people that have children being desirous, for the love of money, to get together as much money as possible, to get together as much money as possible, and therefore grudging every farthing they have to pay for instruction of children, and of course becoming weary and wishing to put a stop to the expense, produces lying, produces the most bitter calumnies and abusive reproaches of teachers, in order that a school may be stopped and the teacher hear the blaming of it. For they are still too proud and have too great a sense of propriety not to scorn the name of withdrawing their children and stopping a school without a cause, or without any better cause than a desire to retrench their expenses; wherefore they asperse others, to vindicate themselves. Hence teachers are condemned upon the mere testimony of children, their schools being always shunned by grown persons, especially parents. And here come most gross misrepresentations, which are honored as facts. One man having a superabundance of desirable things, and another being poor, produces stealing and robbing. For it directly elicits things and customarily valuable as objects to every one to endeavor to attain, makes people excessively covet them, insomuch as to lessen their regard for justice and good conscience, and induces them to trample upon all things else to reach them. Hence, one man exclusively having abundance, produces murder.[1] One is tempted to kill another to get possession of his wealth. (Women, setting so great a value on money that they are willing to submit to the most abject servilities, to obtain it, produces fornication, adultery, and all manner of illicit combinations of the sexes.) People that have stores of merchandize (being fondly attached to money) selling spirituous drink to their drunken neighbors till these die by its effect, produces that mode of self-murder that is effected by poison, from “the worm of the still,” and often brings whole families to absolute mendicity. Some people being so excessively enomoured of money that they are willing to exact, and it being so necessary to others that they are willing to give, 12 or more per cent. interest for the loan of it a year, produces usury.

All these effects are mortal evils; and these causes are well known to produce these effects.

If things of this kind always produce moral evil; it is evident that something of the same kind first caused it.

If these things, which are but a continuation and modifications of that original exemplar of obliquity whereby exclusive rights came into use and had place in the affairs of men, invariably have that tendency to produce moral evil, it seems rationally conclusive that that very thing was original of it, and the cause wherefrom it took its beginning. Moreover, it is plain that none of these things would be, if there had been no such thing as exclusive property, but all were in common stock; for they all rest on this principle, that property is peculiarized and exclusively pertains to individuals. They are self-evidently the direct effluence of such an existence.

Now, such things undeniably do exist, and it is self-evident that either they always did exist, or there was a time when they began to exist. On either supposition we may consider them homogeneous to the source of moral evil.

Therefore, the origin of moral evil, is the circumstance of such a mode as exclusive property having place in the customs of men in a state of society.—This is the efficient cause that gives entrance to moral evil. The reason why this cause existed, is the ignorance of men.

We have assurance that there was a time when these abuses, with respect to a society of men, had a beginning. Things are always somewhere in a gradual, however irregular, progress of alteration from the rude hunting stage of society, up to what we call civility, and where the arts and sciences are cultivated. Printing had a beginning; mathematical-instrument making had a beginning; card playing had a beginning; and it is likely there was a time when a collection of men began to tame and feed animals, and to clear and till land; and a time when they began to make partition of land and stock, and consider them matter of peculiar exclusive inheritance of individuals on certain conditions. Whether it was so with several collections of men on different parts of the earth’s surface at the same time, or with only one, makes no difference.

If men getting into this way of exclusive property, is the cause of moral evil, it is the same thing and no less true, whether it was done by a hundred societies at once, or by one only; and it is of no consequence to this argument, to determine whether there were twenty different collections of human beings at the same moment of time beginning to burn down trees and herbage at different places on the earth’s surface, feeding animals, and awarding degrees of accumulation of products to those of voluntary exploits of bodily power, or to a capricious hereditament, and peculiarizing them on such grounds, or only one such society existed at a time in the world.

[1] Hence one man exclusively having abundance produces robbery, and the resistance made by the possessor, or the desire of avoiding, by concealment, punishment for the violation of the law, produces murder.—Ed.

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