To Mark Hopkins

14 October 1874


[MS in Oberlin College Archives, in the handwriting of Rebecca Finney]


Mark Hopkins (1802-1887), President of Williams College, was an intimate friend of John Morgan of Oberlin, and had been to stay in Oberlin from time to time, when Finney will have got to know him. See, for example, The Lorain County News (Oberlin), 4 October 1865, p. 3; 4 August 1869, p.3; 25 September 1873, p. 3.


Oberlin Oct 14th 1874.

Rev. Mark Hopkins D. D.

Dear Brother, My

wife & self are just reading your

"Outline Study of Man". Wife has

just read to me, what you say

of the relation of the idea of right

to moral obligation. I see you

make the idea of right a

condition of the obligation to put

forth executive volitions.

Is not the same true of the

obligation to choose good as

the ultimate end? I under-

stand you to say that right

never enters into the ground

or ultimate reason of obligation.

With this I fully agree. But, on

perceiving the good, does not the

mind perceive the moral fitness

[page 2]

of choosing the good for its own

sake; and, upon this condition

affirm obligation to choose the

good, for its own sake? And

is not this idea of the moral

fitness of the choice, the same

as that of right, or rightness?

Again, on perceiving, or on

assuming the utility of an

executive volition, does not

the mind affirm the moral

fitness of such a volition?

and upon that condition, not

ground, affirm obligation to

put forth that volition?

And is not this idea of moral

fitness identical with that

of right, or rightness? In one

word, or, in one sentence, is

the idea of or rightness

not ^ right ^ always a condition

while good is always the ground

of obligation? And does not

[page 3]

the error of rightarians consist

in confounding a condition

with the ground of obligation;

or, rather, the mistaking the one

for the other? We are very

much interested in your book.

I see nothing thus far, from

which to dissent, unless it be

the shade of difference on this

question of the perception of

moral fitness, right, or rightness,

as always the condition of

moral obligation. Your book

is a very valuable one. But once

more, would the mind affirm

moral obligation to choose good

did it not perceive the relation

of moral fitness existing between

choice and the good, and

would it affirm obligation to

put forth a useful volition

did it not perceive the relation

[page 4]

of moral fitness or rightness,

existing between the volition

and its object. I am glad

you made the highly important

remark that a refusal to choose

the good, is itself a choice, being

the preference of something else, to

the good. A simple refusal to

choose, is not a choice, because

it has no object. But a preference

of another end, is a choice, so

that sin is not, as some say,

a negation, but a positive preference

of a less to a greater good, upon

condition of the relation of the

less good to self. We shall

probably find that you have said

this, as we read further. When we

have finished your book, I may write you again, in

the meantime should be glad to hear from you.

God Bless You, My Dear Brother. C. G. Finney



Finney had the following reply from Mark Hopkins:


Williams College Oct. 21st 1874

Rev. C. G. Finney,

My honored Friend

The point

you do me the favor to notice

was considered by me as you will

see by reference to the bottom

of the 241st page. Whether you

had read that before writing I am

not quite sure. I hesitate about

it, but on examining the processes

of my own mind it seemed to me

that when I was so placed as

to be under the necessity of choo-

sing between a higher and a

lower good, the obligation

was af to choose the higher

was affirmed immediately in

view of that good. As means,

no process, no volition is required.

The mind comes face to face with

[page 2]

that which is the ground of

obligation, and I see no need

of any intervening idea. The

good is to be chosen for its own

sake; the affirmation of obliga

tion to choose it is all that

is required for moral action

and I do not see why that af-

firmation should not be made

immediately in view of the good

itself rather than in view of

the fitness of the choice to

secure the good. You say

"moral fitness," but I do not

see how any kind of fitness can

become moral except with

reference to some end beyond

itself. I would make the good to

be the ground of the obligation, and

the condition to be an alternative

between a higher and a lower

good so presented that there

[page 3]

should be a necessity of

choosing between them.

I am surprised and much

gratified that you and Mrs. Finney

are reading my book. It is not

often that one who has investigated

those subjects so fully takes them

up again. I am particularly

pleased that you can commend

the book so fully. I thank you

for noticing the above point

as you have, and if, on consider-

ation you judge that I am

wrong, your opinion on that,

or any other point would

have great weight with me.

Trusting you may be long

spared to enlighten and quicken

others I am your friend and

brother &emdash;

Mark Hopkins



Outline Study of Man; or, The Body and Mind in One System, with illustrative diagrams etc. (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1873)

MS in Finney Papers, Oberlin College Archives.

The bottom of page 241 reads:

It is indeed possible, since choice is moral action, to carry the word right, up into the region of choice as distinguished from action, and to say of the choice of a higher good made under a sense of obligation, that it is a right choice, or that it is right to choose the higher good; but here again it is right with reference to the good chosen, and can have moral quality only [p. 242] from the primary obligation based on that.