It is not my intention to occupy your time with a panegyric on the judicious public-spirit displayed by the Founder of this Professorship, or with a studied expression of thanks for the honour conferred on me by the appointment. The best way, I conceive, of at once evincing my own feelings, as to both these points, and fulfilling the designs both of the Founder and of the Electors, will be by doing my utmost to recommend and to facilitate the study in question.
Nor shall I detain you by any lengthened remarks on the labours of my predecessor. Not to mention the peculiar circumstances which, in this case, would render it a matter of more than ordinary delicacy, for me, to pronounce any opinion on his Lectures, it may perhaps be laid down universally, that the decision as to how far any teacher has well performed his part, lies properly with his audience.
I think, it right, however, not to pass unnoticed one circumstance, which may be unknown to some of you, and which may have been unthought of by others, but which ought not, in justice to Mr. Senior's character, to be lost sight of. The praise of a Professor is usually confined to the able and diligent discharge of his duties; the credit of munificent public-spirit is in general confined to the Founder of a Professorship. But when a man actively and fully engaged in a lucrative profession, (especially one for which the preparation is a very expensive as well as laborious education,) devotes to the business of preparing and delivering lectures a large portion of the time and toil which he would otherwise have made subservient to his own emolument, he may, and should, be considered as a pecuniary benefactor to the Professorship, no less than if he had bestowed on it a formal endowment equivalent to what he has sacrificed. And according to the best estimate I can form, the salary which my predecessor received cannot have covered above one-fifth of the loss which he thus incurred. As this is not, like the degree of merit of a Course of Lectures, a question of opinion, but of fact, I trust I shall meet with your indulgence for having alluded to it.
The branch of study to which I am to call your attention is usually spoken of as one of the most modern;—as dating its very origin almost within the memory of man. This view is partly, though not entirely, correct; but it is important to observe, that the study has the disadvantages of novelty without the advantages. It professes not to bring to light curious new facts; which are what stimulates curiosity, and arrests attention; the subjects of which it treats are matters the most trite and familiar. Its novelty is only in the arrangement of well-known facts—in the views taken of them, the language in which they are described, and the general principles founded on them; in all of which, novelty is a source of difficulty, and often an occasion of hostile prejudice; but possesses little or nothing of attraction. Above all, the novelty of the name, I am inclined to regard as on the whole a very considerable disadvantage. The advances made in comparatively modern times, in Mathematics, in Natural Philosophy, and in Chemistry, were sufficient to have been considered as constituting new sciences, with appropriate new titles. But there was an advantage in retaining the established names; which, possessing the veneration due to antiquity, imparted a dignity to studies which were in fact in great measure new: and the greatest innovations met with a more favourable reception, from being regarded merely as improvements, introduced into sciences whose worth had long been admitted without dispute: even as the virtues and achievements of a man of noble birth who infinitely surpasses his ancestors, are regarded with less jealousy than those of an upstart.
The name too of Political-Economy is most unfortunately chosen. Interpreted according to its etymology, it almost implies a contradiction. The branches of science which the Greeks called and seem naturally to have reference, respectively, to and ; the one treating of the affairs and regulation of a Commonwealth, the other, originally at least, of a private family. And in modern popular use, even much more, Economy is limited, not only to the private concerns of a family, and not only to one, and that not the most dignified part of the regulation of a family, the management of its pecuniary concerns, but to the humblest and most minute portion even of these—the regulation of daily expenditure. A man is called a good economist, not for making his fortune by a judicious investment of his capital in some successful manufactory or branch of commerce, but for making the most of a given income, and prudently regulating, so as to prevent waste, all the details of his household expenses.
To those who are habituated to this employment of terms, the title of Political-Economy is likely to suggest very confused and indistinct, and in a great degree incorrect, notions.
It may be said, indeed, that if a science be of intrinsic dignity and importance, the appellation by which it is known is of little consequence;
"By any other name, would smell as sweet."
But this is true only in respect of such as are, if not proficients, at least, students, or inquirers, in each respective branch of knowledge. To all others a name which conveys no clear idea of the nature of the science denoted by it, is not attractive; and one which conveys an incorrect idea, may even prove repulsive, by exciting groundless prejudice.
It is with a view to put you on your guard against prejudices thus created, (and you will meet probably with many instances of persons influenced by them,) that I have stated my objections to the name of Political-Economy. It is now, I conceive, too late to think of changing it. A. Smith, indeed, has designated his work a treatise on the "Wealth of Nations;" but this supplies a name only for the subject-matter, not for the science itself. The name I should have preferred as the most descriptive, and on the whole least objectionable, is that of CATALLACTICS, or the "Science of Exchanges."
Man might be defined, "An animal that makes Exchanges:" no other, even of those animals which in other points make the nearest approach to rationality, having, to all appearance, the least notion of bartering, or in any way exchanging one thing for another. And it is in this point of view alone that Man is contemplated by Political-Economy. This view does not essentially differ from that of A. Smith; since in this science the term Wealth is limited to exchangeable commodities; and it treats of them so far forth only as they are, or are designed to be, the subjects of exchange. But for this very reason it is perhaps the more convenient to describe Political-Economy as the science of Exchanges, rather than as the science of national Wealth. For, the things themselves of which the science treats, are immediately removed from its province, if we remove the possibility, or the intention, of making them the subjects of exchange; and this, though they may conduce, in the highest degree, to happiness, which is the ultimate object for the sake of which wealth is sought. A man, for instance, in a desert island, like Alex. Selkirke, or the personage his adventures are supposed to have suggested, Robinson Crusoe, is in a situation of which Political-Economy takes no cognizance; though he might figuratively be called rich, if abundantly provided with food, raiment, and various comforts; and though he might have many commodities at hand, which would become exchangeable, and would constitute him, strictly speaking, rich, as soon as fresh settlers should arrive.
In like manner a musical talent, which is wealth to a professional performer who makes the exercise of it a subject of exchange, is not so to one of superior rank, who could not without degradation so employ it. It is, in this last case, therefore, though a source of enjoyment, out of the province of Political-Economy.
This limitation of the term Wealth to things contemplated as exchangeable, has been objected to on the ground that it makes the same thing to be wealth to one person and not to another. This very circumstance has always appeared to me the chief recommendation of such a use of the term; since the same thing is different to different persons. Even if we determine to employ the terms Wealth and Value in reference to every kind
of possession, we must still admit, that there is at least some very great distinction, between the possession, for instance, of a collection of ornamental trees, by a nursery-man, who cultivates them for sale, and by a gentleman, who has planted them to adorn his grounds.
Since however the popular use of the term Wealth is not always very precise, and since it may require, just in the outset, some degree of attention to avoid being confused by contemplating the very same thing as being, or not being, an article of wealth, according to circumstances, I think it for this reason more convenient on the whole to describe Political-Economy as concerned, universally, and exclusively, about exchanges.
It was once proposed indeed to designate it the "Philosophy of Commerce;" but this, though etymologically quite unexceptionable, being indeed coincident with the description just given, is open to the objection, that the word Commerce has been, in popular use, arbitrarily limited to one class of exchanges.
The only difficulty I can foresee as attendant on the language I have now been using, is one which vanishes so readily on a moment's reflection as to be hardly worth mentioning. In many cases, where an exchange really takes place, the fact is liable (till the attention is called to it) to be overlooked, in consequence of our not seeing any actual transfer from hand to hand of a material object. For instance, when the copy-right of a book is sold to a bookseller, the article transferred is not the mere paper covered with writing, but the exclusive privilege of printing and publishing. It is plain however, on a moment's thought, that the transaction is as real an exchange, as that which takes place between the bookseller and his customers who buy copies of the work. The payment of rent for land is a transaction of a similar kind: for though the land itself is a material object, it is not this that is parted with to the tenant, but the right to till it.
Having settled then what it is that Political-Economy is concerned about, it might seem natural to proceed immediately to the development of the principles of the science, and the application of them to the various questions to be discussed.
But such is the existing state of feeling on the subject—so numerous are the misapprehensions that prevail respecting it—and so strong is the prejudice in many minds against the study—a prejudice, partly the effect, and partly the cause, of these misapprehensions, that I am compelled, however reluctantly, to occupy some of your time in removing objections and mistakes which stand in the very threshold of our inquiries. I find myself somewhat in the condition of settlers in a country but newly occupied by civilized man; who have to clear land overgrown with thickets—to extirpate wild beasts—and to secure themselves from the incursions of savages, before they can proceed to the cultivation of the soil.
It might seem indeed an insult to your understanding, to enter upon a formal apology for treating of a science, for the cultivation of which you have accepted the endowment of a Professorship, whose duties you have done me the honour to entrust to my hands. I have no such intention: nor do I mean to imply, that those who now hear me are likely to be imbued with those vulgar prejudices to which I have alluded. But you should be prepared to expect and to encounter them. Both in the conversation and in the writings, not only of such as are, universally, mere empty pretenders, but of some who, on other subjects, shew themselves not destitute of good sense, of candour, or of information, you will be likely to meet with such assertions and (intended) arguments, on this subject, as the very same persons would treat with scorn, in any other case. If, therefore, I should appear to any of you to bestow, either now or hereafter, more attention than is requisite on mistakes and absurdities which may be thought to carry their own refutation with them, I shall intreat you to reflect how much importance the circumstances of the case may attach to objections and errors, in themselves unworthy of notice. It may be well worth while to suggest popular answers to prevailing fallacies, which could never mislead a man of moderate intelligence, attention, and candour, applied to the question; because the number is so considerable of those who are deficient in one or other of these qualities, or in the exercise of them in a field of inquiry that may be new to their minds. A mixture of indolence and self-conceit inclines many a one to flatter himself, that there can be nothing worth studying in a subject with which he is unacquainted. Many a one is overawed by a blind veneration for antiquity, into a conviction that whatever is true must have been long since discovered; or by a mistaken view of the design of Scripture, into an expectation of finding revealed there, every thing relative to human concerns. And many again are prone to mistake declamation for argument, and to accept confident assertion and vehement vituperation as a substitute for logical refutation.
In fact, the number of those who are not only qualified to appreciate justly the force of arguments, but who are also accustomed to this employment of their faculties, is probably less than is supposed. When a man maintains, on several points, opinions which are true, and assigns good and sufficient reasons for them, both he himself, and others, are apt to conclude at once that he is convinced by those reasons: whereas the truth will often be, that he has taken upon trust both the premises and the conclusion, as well as the connexion between them; that he is indolently repeating what he has heard, without performing any process of reasoning in his own mind; and that if he had not been early trained or predisposed, to admit the conclusion, and it had been presented to him as a novelty, the arguments which support it, though in themselves perfectly valid, would have had little or no weight with him. If such a man then enters on any new field of inquiry, his deficiencies at once become apparent. He is in a situation analogous to that of children taught by a negligent or unskilful master, who are often found able apparently to read with great fluency, in a book they have been accustomed to; though in reality they are not so much reading, as repeating by rote the sentences they have often gone over; and if tried in a new book are at a loss to put two syllables together.
Causes such as I have alluded to, and many others, operate more or less to produce indifference, prejudice, or error, as to the subject now before us, in the minds of great numbers, whom you cannot either in prudence or in charity pass by with disdain, as unworthy of attention. There are indeed degrees of intellectual or of moral deficiency, such as to preclude all hope of effecting rational conviction; but there are also minor degrees of these obstacles which may be surmounted by patient assiduity, though not without. And it should be remembered, that a cause would be in no very flourishing condition which should be opposed by all except those who are pre-eminent at once in acuteness, in industry, and in candour. Nay, some may be brought to deserve even this very description, who were at first of a very different character; even as the illustrious authors of our Reformation, who listened and replied with unwearied patience to every objection, found some most zealous and able coadjutors in men who had for a time been strenuous upholders of Romanism.
And there is the more encouragement to labour perseveringly in the removal of prejudices and the inculcation of just principles, inasmuch as the great majority of those whom you will find assenting to the most absurd arguments, and perfectly unmoved by the strongest, have no such natural incapacity for reasoning as some might thence infer; but possess powers which lie dormant for want of exercise; and these they may be roused to exert, when once they are brought to perceive that they have been accustomed to imagine themselves following a course of reasoning, when in fact they were not. The puerile fallacies which you may sometimes hear a man adduce on some subjects, are perhaps in reality no more his own, than the sound arguments he employs on others; he may have given an indolent unthinking acquiescence to each; and if he can be excited to exertion of thought, he may be very capable of distinguishing the sound from the unsound.
Not that after all you must expect even the clearest explanations and the most unanswerable arguments, to prove universally successful. Those who have been too long and willingly enthralled in the fetters of presumptuous ignorance and bigoted prejudice, even if driven out of the house of bondage, which they love, will continue wanderers in a wilderness; but there may be a rising generation of more docile mind, who may be led forward with fairer hopes of ultimate success.
As for the vehement vituperation lavished on the study of Political-Economy which you will be prepared to hear, though, of course, not to answer, I will only remark, that I think it on the whole no unfavourable sign. Invective is the natural resort of those who are either incapable of sound reasoning altogether, or at a loss for arguments to suit their present purpose: supposing, that is, of course, in each case, as far as they are not withheld by gentlemanly or Christian feeling. In proportion therefore as any branch of study leads to important and useful results—in proportion as it gains ground in public estimation—in proportion as it tends to overthrow prevailing errors—in the same degree, it may be expected to call forth angry declamation from those who are trying to despise what they will not learn, and wedded to prejudices which they cannot defend. Galileo probably would have escaped persecution, if his discoveries could have been disproved, and his reasonings refuted. The same spirit which formerly consigned the too powerful disputant to the dungeon or the stake, is now, thank heaven, compelled to vent itself in railing; which you need not more regard than the hiss of a serpent which has been deprived of its fangs.
Having premised, then, that I shall notice misapprehensions and objections in proportion not so much to their intrinsic weight, as to their prevalence, and the probability of your being called on to refute them, you will perhaps be surprised at my mentioning in the first place, a complaint urged against writers on Political-Economy for confining their attention to the subject of Wealth. This sounds very much like a complaint against mathematicians for treating merely of quantities; or against grammarians for investigating no subject but language. Yet I can assure you that I have seen the complaint urged with apparent seriousness, by writers not generally held in contempt. I believe what is really meant by some of those who make the complaint, is, that some writers (A. Smith in particular has been charged with this) have recommended this or that measure to be at once adopted, on the ground of its conducing to national wealth; or have measured the whole benefit of each institution—the absolute desirableness of each object—by this standard alone.
I am inclined to think that in many cases this has been the fault of the reader more than of the writer. When an author is avowedly treating, exclusively, of questions of profit and loss, the fair mode of interpretation seems to be, to understand what he says, in reference to the subject in hand exclusively. If therefore I find a writer on Political-Economy treating, for instance, of the comparative merits of different modes that have been proposed for the attainment of some national good, and deciding in favour of one of them, I should think myself bound in candour to understand him as speaking (unless he expressly referred to some other consideration) of the superiority of that one in reference to national wealth alone; and as not giving any decision as to its absolute expediency.
It is thus we judge in all other cases. When a physician tells his patient, "you ought to go to the sea;" or, "you ought to abstain from sedentary employments," he is always understood to be speaking in reference to health alone. He is not supposed to imply by the use of the word "ought," that his patient is morally bound to follow the prescription at all events; which would perhaps imply the incurring of ruinous expense, or the neglect of important duties.
If this mode of interpretation be not adhered to, any one who writes or speaks on any subject whatever, will be perpetually liable to be misunderstood; and that, the more, in proportion to the precision and accuracy with which he confines himself to the question before him. For instance, a man who is employed to measure two portions of land, delivers in a statement of the number of acres in each, and represents correctly, (if he has done his work well,) which is the larger. But if, when he has confined himself to his own proper business, to the exclusion of all irrelevant considerations, he is mistakenly supposed to have been expressing an opinion as to the comparative fertility of soil, healthiness of situation, or picturesque beauty, of the two estates, the statement he has made will be likely to mislead in proportion to its real accuracy.
In like manner, when a geometrician states the ratios of cubes or spheres to each other, though one may be of lead and the other of wood, he is supposed to be taking into consideration, not their substance and weight, but their magnitude alone. And so also, if a writer on Political-Economy is speaking of two articles of wealth as equal or unequal, he ought reasonably to be understood as speaking of their exchangeable value, without touching on their greater or less desirableness in other respects. Though one thousand pounds' worth of jewels be of the same value as one thousand pounds' worth of instructive books, which must as surely be the case as that a pound of feathers and a pound of lead are equal in weight, it does not follow that each must contribute equally to public and private happiness.
If, however, any writer does maintain this, or in any way asserts or implies that wealth constitutes the sole ground of preference of one thing to another, and that happiness is best promoted by sacrificing on each occasion all other considerations to that of profit, he is then deserving of censure for the doctrine he inculcates; but it is remarkable that this censure will be incurred by a procedure the very opposite of the one complained of. His fault will have been his not confining himself to questions relating merely to wealth, but travelling out of his record, (as it is called,) to decide, and decide erroneously, as to what conduces to public happiness. His proper inquiry was, as to the means by which wealth may be preserved or increased: to inquire how far wealth
is desirable, is to go out of his proper province: to represent it as the only thing desirable, is an error, not in Political-Economy, but apart from it; and arises, not from his too close adherence to his own subject, but from his wandering into extraneous discussions.
I could wish, therefore, that the complaint against Political-Economists of confining themselves to the considerations of wealth were better founded than it is; for there is nothing that tends more to perplexity and error than the practice of treating of several different subjects, at the same time, and confusedly, so as to be perpetually sliding from one inquiry to another, of different kinds.
Not, however, that I mean at all to object to the incidental notice by writers on Political-Economy of matters closely allied to, yet forming no part of, the inquiries properly belonging to this science. In questions appertaining to any other branch of politics, or of the philosophy of the human mind, they may be right, or they may be wrong, in their conclusions themselves, yet without introducing any indistinctness and confusion into their own proper course of inquiry, provided they are but careful to keep the different subjects apart. A digressive discussion, in short, of any point, is not necessarily objectionable, if it be so introduced as not to lose sight of the circumstance that it is a digression.
The same sort of complaint, which I have been speaking of as having been urged against the writers who have treated of this science, has sometimes been brought against the study itself. Since wealth, it is urged, is not happiness, and since it is only one out of the many subjects which lawgivers or governors have to consider, a science which has wealth for its subject, is unworthy of so dignified a title, and beneath the attention of a philosophical mind: especially, it is added, since men are in general prone rather to an excess than a deficiency in the pursuit of gain.
To the former part of this objection it may be sufficient to reply, that we are more likely to advance in knowledge, by treating of one subject at a time, than by blending together several distinct inquiries; though all may centre in the one common ultimate end, of human happiness. Even the building and fitting up of a house is a work entrusted to a number of distinct artisans, though their labours all tend to one common end, the comfort of the inhabitant. Much more may it be expected, that in the pursuit of so complex an object as human good, universally, our inquiries will be as vague and unprofitable as those of the Platonists after their , unless we divide them according to the different branches of the subject, and keep steadily in view not merely the general end of them all, but the immediate end of each. This remark, in substance, was expressed several years ago, in relation to another subject, by one of our most illustrious professors, with a neatness and precision which cannot be surpassed: "omnium hæc est laus artium ut hominum utilitatibus inserviant.... atqui non nobis inquirendum est, quid omnibus sit commune, sed quid cuique proprium."
Whether we choose, after the example of the Greek philosophers, to speak of the Political science as having for its object Human Good universally, or whether we understand Politics in the more limited sense which is now the more usual, as relating to public affairs contradistinguished from those of individuals; in either case, Political-Economy will be one branch of Political science; of which all branches are worthy of attention, and each demands a separate attention.
And as there is no department of knowledge connected with the public welfare, that is undeserving of attentive study, so, the one now before us is perhaps the more suitable for an academical course of instruction in an endowed University, from the circumstance that it is not, like Law or the Military art, &c. the subject of a strictly professional education. Many of the arts most essential to society, need no artificial stimulus to their cultivation, because they are such that the success in life of individuals is clearly connected with their (real or supposed) proficiency in those branches of knowledge, by the exercise of which they are to be maintained. But the regulation of public affairs, in which most of the higher and a large proportion of the middle and lower classes in this country have a greater or less share, is not an art learned in any course of regular professional education, but is too often exercised by those who have to learn it (if they learn it at all) in practice, from a series of experiments, of which the nation must abide the peril. Now it is precisely those branches of study the cultivation of which is expedient for the Public, but to which the self-interest of individuals would not lead them—it is these, I say, that most demand the attention of a University; unless at least we suppose them the gift of nature, or of inspiration.
As for the latter part of the objection above noticed, that men are already too eager in the pursuit of wealth, and ought not to be encouraged to make it an object of attention, the mistake on which it proceeds is one which you will meet with only in the young, (I mean, either in years, or in character,) and which you will readily remove in the case of those who are even moderately intelligent and attentive. You may easily explain to them that Political-Economy is not the art of enriching an individual, but relates to Wealth generally;—to that of a nation, and not to that of an individual, except in those cases where his acquisition of it goes to enrich the community. You may point out to them that wealth has no more necessary connexion with the vice of covetousness, than with the virtue of charity; since it merely forms the subject-matter about which the one as well as the other of these is concerned: and that investigations relative to the nature, production, and distribution, of wealth, have no greater connexion with sordid selfishness, than the inquiries of the chemist and the physiologist respecting the organs and the process of digestion and absorption of nutriment, have with gluttonous excess. And you may add, that individuals the most destitute of systematic knowledge, and nations not only ignorant but comparatively poor, are at least as prone to avarice as any others. The Arabs are among the poorest, and the most covetous, of nations; and most of those savage tribes, who have not even the use of money, are addicted to pilfering and plunder of every thing that is wealth to them.
The mistake, however, which I have now been noticing, is evidently the result of such complete thoughtlessness, that you will not probably find it necessary to bestow much pains on its refutation.
As for the degree and the manner in which Wealth is connected with national happiness— this, as well as the points of contact between a knowledge of this subject, and our moral and religious duties—the relation again in which it stands to Natural-theology—and again, the sources from which our knowledge of it is to be derived—all these are points respecting which more serious misapprehensions prevail; and which therefore, requiring to be dwelt on at somewhat greater length, must be reserved for future Lectures.