Item 50 - Letter from David G. Ritchie to Henry Sidgwick

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Add. MS c/95/50


Letter from David G. Ritchie to Henry Sidgwick


  • 12 Jul 1895 (Creation)

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Writes in relation to Sidgwick's review of his last book in Mind that month. Clarifies the audience at whom it is aimed, and declares that he would have no hesitation in recommending the book to candidates reading for the two examinations with which he has 'most acquaintance', i.e., 'Lit. Hum. and Mod. Hist. at Oxford.' Laments the fact that the subject of Political Science is not recognised in Scotland. Explains that the book grew out of a popular lecture, but that it is based on many years' study of the American and French Declarations of Rights. Claims that '[i]n treating the idea of "natural rights" as "an element of current thought"' he believed that it was as important to deal with popular writers, such as Henry George, as with 'an exposition of Les Naturalis like Father Rickaby or of the doctrine of Naturrecht like Prof Lorimer [or] of his own special views like [W.] Spencer.' In relation to the latter refers to his criticism of his fundamental formula of justice in the book, and claims that he has written much about him in a book called Principles of State-Interferences. With reference to two examples of Ritchie's 'inaccuracy' in his historical statements given by Sidgwick, he does not acknowledge any error, but does concede that the statements 'might certainly be improved and made fuller and less ambiguous.' Refers to the passage 'from [Filmer]', and to the theory of natural rights, which he traces to the Protestant revolt against authority. Admits that it can be traced further back, to medieval writers 'on the ecclesiastical side' who asserted the sovereignty of the people and the right of resistance to tyrants 'when the Church (or the Pope) declared them such.' Claims that Protestantism is 'the logical parent of the French Revolution', but emphasises that he does not assert this claim because Hegel said so. Refers to Locke and Rousseau, and their theories on the sovereignty of the people. Claims not to have ignored the differences between the two, and that he referred to the matter more fully in 'Darwin and Hegel etc. [Essays on 'Social Contract' and 'Sovereignty']', in Principles of State-Interference, and in the translation of [Bluntschli's] Theory of the State. Assures Sidgwick that he does not ask for a reply to his letter, but asks that he or any of his pupils or his friends who have read his book could send him notes on passages that contain inaccuracies or are in need of revision.

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