Home, Henry (1696–1782)
Henry Home (Lord Kames), an aesthetician and moral philosopher, was born at Kames, Berwickshire, Scotland. He was educated at home and indentured to a writer of the signet in Edinburgh, but he resolved to become an advocate and was admitted to the Scottish bar in 1724. He became a judge of the Court of Session in 1752 and assumed the judicial title of Lord Kames. He was advanced to the High Court of Justiciary in 1763 and was still serving at the time of his death.
Kames wrote a number of books, several of them on legal subjects. His Sketches of the History of Man (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1774) bridged his interests in history and philosophy, and he frequently referred to the Sketches in his Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion (3rd ed., Edinburgh, 1779). His other philosophical work is Elements of Criticism (2nd ed., Edinburgh, 1763), a discussion of aesthetic principles.
Kames argued that the fundamental principles of the fine arts, or the elements of criticism, must be drawn from human nature. The fine arts are suited to human nature because humans, as sensitive beings, are capable of pleasure; and the fine arts are calculated to give pleasure to eye or ear. Kames devoted the opening chapters of the Elements to an account of human emotions and passions. These chapters form the psychological prolegomena that he believed aesthetics requires. Perceptions and ideas occur independently of our wills, though we can sometimes will the cessation of a train of ideas. Ideas follow our perceptions and each other in accordance with the laws of association (resemblance, contiguity in time or place, and cause and effect). Emotions and passions occur in relation to our train of perceptions and ideas. A passion is an emotion that is accompanied by a desire. The general rule for the occurrence of emotions is that we love what is agreeable and hate what is disagreeable. Kames's basic principle of criticism is that every work of art that is conformable to the natural course of our ideas is so far agreeable, and every work of art that reverses that course is so far disagreeable. On the one hand, Kames wanted to establish that the agreeableness or disagreeableness of things is prior to our love or hatred; but on the other, he accounted for our emotional reactions to certain things by saying that the nature of man is originally framed with a relish for regularity, uniformity, proportion, order, and simplicity.
The fine arts that Kames had in mind are painting, sculpture, music, poetry, gardening, and architecture; but the first three are not discussed systematically in the Elements. Poetry is given the most extended criticism. Kames was especially interested in plays, and gardening and architecture share a chapter. He divided aesthetic qualities into two sorts: those that an object may possess in itself and those that it has in relation to other objects. Qualities of the first sort are grandeur, sublimity, motion, force, novelty, "laughableness," and beauty, which he conceded are both intrinsic and relational. The relational qualities that Kames discussed are resemblance and dissimilitude, uniformity and variety.
Kames argued that it should be possible to establish a standard of taste against which productions in the fine arts might be judged. We believe that things of a certain kind have a common nature, and individuals are perfect or right insofar as they conform to the common nature of their kind. Thus, it should be possible to determine the common nature that works of art of a certain kind ought to share and to assess the success with which a given work of art meets the ideal of its kind. Kames noted that every person is not fit to become a judge of the fine arts, since not everyone is capable of the refinement of taste that is required. This is no great hardship on the bulk of humankind. The fine arts only contribute to our pleasure and amusement, and it is not as necessary for everyone to have an authoritative sense of right and wrong in the fine arts as it is for everyone to have an authoritative moral sense.
In Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, Kames discussed a wide range of philosophical topics, including liberty and necessity, personal identity, belief, external senses, and cause and effect. His thinking is influenced by David Hume, either in quiet concurrence or by vigorous reaction. The two longest and most important essays are Essay II, "The Foundation of Morality," and Essay VIII, "Knowledge of the Deity."
For Kames, the foundation of morality is to be found in human nature. Looking there, he finds the moral sense that approves certain natural principles, which are enforced by natural rewards or punishments of pleasure or pain. These principles bind us to refrain from harming others, to tell the truth, to keep our promises, to act faithfully toward those who rely on us, to be grateful, and to be benevolent. While the moral sense is rooted in the nature of man, it admits of great refinements by culture and education.
A hasty reader might conclude that whenever Kames needed to solve a new perplexity in the foundation of morals, he discovered a new sense in humankind. For instance, he resolved the long-standing dispute over the artificiality of justice by declaring that justice is natural because it is founded on a natural sense of property. He claimed that this sense is necessarily antecedent to any social agreement; and indeed that any agreement to organize a society presupposes the existence in men of a sense of property.
In natural religion, Kames believed that he had brought to light a new argument to prove the existence of a god. In D. Cranz's The History of Greenland (London, 1767) Kames found an account of a Greenlander who argued in the following way for the existence of an artisan superior in power to man: A kayak is a work of art that can be made only by the most skilled of men, but a bird is an even greater work of art than a kayak; thus there must be an artisan to make birds who is even greater than man. Kames was most impressed by the fact that this argument came from a savage and concluded that "the perception we have of Deity must proceed from an internal cause, which may be termed the Sense of Deity."
In the Essays, Kames generalized the Greenlander argument, contending, "We are so accustomed to human arts, that every work of design and use will be attributed to man, if it exceed not his known powers. Nor do effects above the powers of man unhinge our notion of a cause : They only lead the mind to a more powerful cause." The italicized words in the passage above are especially interesting, because in an addendum to the third edition of the Essays (1779), Kames complained that Hume ignored the Greenlander argument in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion ; and Kames believed that argument immune from any strictures on natural religion was found in Hume's Dialogues.
Lewis Amherst Selby-Bigge, ed. British Moralists (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897), Vol. II, contains a representative selection of passages from the essay on the foundation of morals (Essay II) in Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion.
Elmer Sprague (1967)
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