Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Moral Relativism, 1731

THO' human Reason is that very eminent and distinguishing Faculty which gives us the Precedency of all our Fellow-Creatures here below; yet whether it is an original Instinct of Nature, an innate Quality or Property of the Soul, inherent in, and inseparable from it, or is acquired and improved by Deductions made from such Ideas as are conveyed into the Mind by Sensation and Reflection; is a Question, on the Resolution of which the whole Controversy seems to me to depend. For if it is an innate Quality peculiar to, and inseparable from, the Soul; then, methinks, it shold be the same in every Man: that is, every Man should reason alike upon the same Object, should perfectly quadrate and agree in the same thing, should be entirely unanimous in their Sentiments and Definitiosn of right and wrong, good and evil, &c.. But if in such Instances they are not, nor ever were (under their present unhappy Circumstances) of this agreeable Temper; since Man have ever wrangled and disputed about things of the highest Consequence and Concern, and have frequently mistaken the one for the other, and called Good evil, and Evil [p.2] good; since the very Being and Essence of God has been question'd and disputed, (which, if there's any innate Principle in Nature, it's impossible it should ever be:) then I think we may conclude, that there's no original Impression of Knowledge or Duty inherent in, and inseparable from, the Mind; but that it's furnished, as Mr. Locke says, with the Ideas of sensible Qualities from external Objects, and then again furnishes the Understanding with Ideas of its own Operation, which he calls Sensation and Reflection. [p.3] . . .
          Sodomy, Incest, Adultery &c. are but Evils to him that thinks them so. Every Man is at liberty to pursue or neglectc them, as the Dictates of his own Mind shall suggest and direct. And what if human Laws have here and there interposed, and made them penal, it is not because they are in their own Nature evil, but because they tend some way or other to the prejudice of those Societies where they are so treated,and either hinder the Procreation of Children, the Union and Confederacy of Families, or are deterimental to the Rights and Properties of this or that particular Man.
          Who would quarrel with a Man for doing what Nature enclines him to, if it was not that he did this or that thing contrary to the Laws of particular Societies? Who would say that this or that was a Crime, if [p.10] it was not that the Laws of particular Nations had so defined it? Socrates lent his Wife to Alcibiades; and the Laws of Athens allowed Women to make use of other Men, if their Husbands were deficient. This, it's true, has been contrary to the Custom of some other Places,and to the Sentiments of some other Men; but who will presume to say, that either Socrates or the Athenians acted contrary to the Dictates of Nature, or that they had not as clear Ideas of Obligation and Duty as Men have now? [p.11] . . .

SOURCE: The Religion of Nature Consider'd, London, 1731.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Moral Relativism, 1731," Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 21 August 2021 <>.

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