To Mark Hopkins

14 November 1874


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


Oberlin Nov. 14th 1874.

Rev. Mark Hopkins D.D.

My Dear Brother,


received your kind letter in due time.

I have read your book through once,

and have commenced the re-reading of

it. I like it much, but I am re-read-

ing it, because I am not certain that

I fully understood some parts of it.

I have long felt that writers on Moral

Philosophy had, after all, failed to write

on the true question of morals.

Strictly, all real morality, consists

in conformity to the spirit of moral

law, and this relates to the ultimate

immanent, supreme, preference of the soul.

This, writers on Moral Philosophy, have

overlooked, or at least, very inadequately

considered. Mental Philosophy has

[page 2]

also been faulty, in that it has been

mostly a Philosophy of the intellect, and

the will has been very much confounded

with the sensibility. Your Outline Study

of Man, is much the most satisfactory of

anything I have seen. There is one question

that I should like to see more thoroughly

considered. It is either assumed, or

asserted, by all Philosophers whose writings

I have read, that the will does not, and cannot

act, unless it is impelled or invited by an

impulse of the sensibility. That it is desire,

or some feeling in the sensibility that

stimulates the will into action, and that

we do not, and can not choose upon

the mere rational apprehension of the good,

or valuable, unless this apprehension produces

an impulse of the sensibility. But the idea of

the intrinsically valuable, once possessed,

[page 3]

can we not will under the pure affirmation

of conscience and reason, without any impulse

from the sensibility? And do we not affirm

our obligation to do so? I am afraid of a

philosophy that makes the possibility of

the will's action, dependent on an impulse

from the sensibility. The sensibility is the

condition of developing the idea of the good,

but the idea being once developed, does it

not impose obligation, without any further

impulse from the sensibility? In my former

letter, I think I failed to make myself un-

derstood. I agree with you, that a moral agent

affirms obligation to choose the good, for its own sake,

simply upon the apprehension of the intrinsic

value of the good itself. The good is the sole

ground of obligation, and the sole object of choice.

It is the good itself, that determines the choice.

But, are there not, two latent assumptions,

not at all thought of, at the time, that are

essential conditions of the affirmation of obligation

to choose? namely, Ability & moral propriety,

[page 4]

or fitness. Or, either, it may perhaps

strictly be said, that the idea of moral

propriety, and moral obligation are identical.

I do not mean that the idea of moral propriety

or fitness, enters at all into the ground

of obligation. But, should we have the con-

ception of moral obligation in con-

templating the value of the good, did we

not assume, both our ability, and the

moral propriety of the choice? We

think at the moment, of neither of

these conditions, but the question is,

does not a moral agent, necessarily assume

the reality of both of these conditions, in

every case of affirmed obligation to

choose? I will not affirm this dogmatically,

but will you not look again, narrowly

into this question? It seems to me, that

either we necessarily assume the moral

fitness of the choice, as a condition

[page 5]

of obligation to choose, or that the

affirmation of this fitness, and of

moral obligation are identical.

You wonder at my inclination to

still pursue this subject. I

deem the question of the found-

ation of moral obligation fundamental,

and cannot rest, as long as there is so

much error and darkness, upon the

minds of ministers upon this question

I want to have this matter searched

to the bottom, and especially, to have

the Collegiate and Theological Schools

set right upon this subject.

The Colleges and Theological

Seminaries, are all in the dark

on this fundamental question.

I almost never, hear a sermon that

does not pain me because the

preacher is in a muddle upon this

[page 6]

question. The seminaries are

all, either rightarian, or utilitarian,

consequently, the true nature of

morals & religion are is misrepresented

and preachers are all in confusion.

You are doing a great and good

work, in publishing on this

subject. You are still so vigorous

and clear a thinker and writer that

I much desire to converse with

you. Especially upon the two

points I have noticed in this letter.

You have the ear and the confidence

of the best minds in the country,

and your writings are greatly

needed throughout this country and

Europe. What a pity it is, that our

foreign missionaries are in the dark

upon this subject. It does pain

me exceedingly, to know that they

are sowing the seeds of false philos-

ophy, and consequently Theology,

[page 7]

in heathen lands. I get along

with your book slowly, because

of the pressure of so many

other things upon my mind, and

because that I am of late, troubled

with dizziness, if I overwork

my brain. From my law habits

of close reading, I am not one of those

that can sit down, and read such a

book as yours, through in an evening,

or any book, that has any thought

in it. I read it searchingly, and

ponderingly, as I would a statute.

I presume the fault was my own

but in my first reading, I thought,

especially in the last few chapters,

some of your statements were

not quite clear. If my health

holds out, I intend to give your

book another searching perusal.

Then, if I need more light, and

God will, you may expect

[page 8]

to hear from me again.

In the meantime, any suggestion

from you, will be thankfully


God Bless You, My Dear Brother!

C. G. Finney, by Mrs. Finney.


Finney received the following reply from Mark Hopkins:


Williams College Nov. 24th 1874

Rev. C. G. Finney,

Dear Brother,

If we could

converse on the two points you

mention I think we should

agree. You say, "The intellect could

not have the idea of good except through

an experience of the sensibility." On that

we agree. A sensibility is the condition

of any moral idea. You say again, "But

the idea of the intrinsically valuable once

possessed, can we not will under the pure

affirmation of conscience and reason with

out any impulse from the sensibility?

And do we not affirm our obligation to do

so"? I say yes - without any impulse that

is not necessarily involved in such action. The

simple fact I suppose to be, as is implied in

what you say farther on, that the idea of

the good being once developed obligation

[page 2]

is affirmed without "any further impulse"


of the sensibility." Observe &endash; further impulse &endash;

that implies the exact doctrine I hold in re

gard to the complex nature of the Moral

Reason as both rational and emotive. I have

used the expression in regard to it some-

where, "The wheels are full of eyes round about."

There is, as I hold, not only a rational apprehen

sion of the good, but a sensibility in the mor-

al nature itself by which we are led

or impelled to choose it. This is not properly

desire, certainly not in such a sense

that any thing selfish can be con-

nected with it. If we had had a good

word for it probably it would have

prevent[e]d many disputes.

On the other point I am inclined

to the solution you suggest, that is, that

"the idea of moral propriety, and moral

obligation are identical". That

freedom is presupposed by us as a condi

tion of any moral act I agree. so are

our existence, and our moral nature.

But, these being given, I see no

need of any idea of moral pro-

[page 3]

priety, or rightness, at least in those

cases to which I have drawn attention,

in which choice only is required, in

immediate view of the good with[out]


Have you ever happened to see a work

by me &endash; the "Law of Love"? I should like

to have you look at the preface to

the 3d. edition where my views are

condensed into a few short propopsi

tions. You will see by the 9th that

I had thought of right as synono

mous with obligation. You will

see also by referring to the other pre

face &endash; the one that stands second in

the book &endash; that I refer to you as

having first stated fully the necessity of an

underlying sensibility.

If I was surprised at your reading

my book at all I was more so at your

reading it a second time. I did the

best I could to make the statements

plain, but am sure there must

be something wrong in it since

[page 4]

you find it difficult to understand

it. However most of the great and diffi

cult topics of philosophy are touched

on, and my space was quite too

limited. I hope the second perusal

will be satisfactory, and any sug

gestion of error or obscurity would

be thankfully received, especially

if future editions should be called

for. I find the method by the black

board, and the chart at the end

a decided help in making those

subjects plain.

Observing that your letter was "by Mrs.

Finney", I feel inclined to reverse what

Tertius did who wrote the Epistle to the Romans

He said, "I Tertius who wrote this Epistle,

salute you." I would salute her who

wrote the Epistle. Praying that

you may long continue too be spared

to the world and blessed I am

cordially Yours

Mark Hopkins



The ninth proposition reads:

When an act of choice alone is required without volition or the use of means, as in love or good-willing, obligation is affirmed at once without the intervention of the idea of right, and with no place for it unless it be regarded as synonymous with obligation. (The Law of Love and Love as a Law; or, Christian Ethics [New York: C. Scribner & Co., 1871], p. vii)