Though little known today, David Fordyce was an important figure in the Scottish Enlightenment and closely associated with liberal Dissenters in England. His Elements of Moral Philosophy was a notable contribution to the curriculum in moral philosophy and a widely circulated text in moral philosophy in the second half of the eighteenth century.
It was first published as part of a comprehensive textbook system in 1748 and as a separate book in 1754. It is the latter that is now being reissued.
The significance of The Elements is evidenced by the fact that it was included practically verbatim in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1771). A Brief Account, Fordyce’s opening lectures to his Marischal class of 1743/44, has never before been published.
"Now, whatever adjusts or maintains this Balance, whatever in the human Constitution is formed for directing the Passions, so as to keep them from defeating their own End, or interfering with each other, must be a Principle of a superior Nature to them, and ought to direct their Measures, and govern their Proportions. But it was found that REASON or Reflection is such a Principle, which points out the Tendency of our Passions, weighs their Influence upon private and public Happiness, and shews the best Means of attaining either. It having been likewise found, that there is another directing or controuling Principle, which we call CONSCIENCE, or the MORAL SENSE, which, by a native kind of Authority, judges of Affections and Actions, pronouncing some just and good, and others unjust and ill; it follows that the Passions, which are mere Impulses, or blind Forces, are Principles inferior and subordinate to this judging Faculty. THEREFORE, if we would follow the Order of Nature, i.e. observe the mutual Respects and the Subordination which the different Parts of the human Constitution bear to one another, the Passions ought to be subjected to the Direction and Authority of the leading or controuling Principles.
We conclude therefore from this Induction, that
“The Constitution or just Oeconomy of human Nature, consists in a regular Subordination of the Passions and Affections to the AUTHORITY of CONSCIENCE, and the DIRECTION of REASON.”
David Fordyce (1711–1751) was a Scottish philosopher, a contributor to the Scottish Enlightenment.
Fordyce was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen (MA, 1728). He entered the ministry and returned to Marischal as regent in 1742, teaching Moral Philosophy there until 1751, when he died by drowning at sea. His popular Elements of Moral Philosophy was first published in Robert Dodsley's Preceptor, vol. 2 (1748).
He was born at Broadford, near Aberdeen, and baptised 1 April 1711, the second son of George Fordyce of Broadford, provost of Aberdeen; he was brother to the physician William Fordyce and the minister James Fordyce. After attending Aberdeen grammar school he was entered Marischal College in 1724, where he went through a course of philosophy under Daniel Garden, and took mathematics under John Stewart. He took his M.A. degree in 1728. Being intended for the church he next studied divinity under James Chalmers, and obtained a license as a preacher; but he never received a call.
There followed an itinerant period, of nearly a decade. He was in Glasgow, taking part in some intellectual debates as a protégé of Thomas Blackwell, in 1735. He had preoccupations with family business, and then travelled to England, where he associated with Philip Doddridge, whose dissenting academy was then in Northampton; he served briefly as a minister in Newport Pagnell, in 1739. Via France he returned to Edinburgh as an assistant at the Tron Kirk.
In 1742 he was appointed professor of moral philosophy in Marischal College. By Dodsley he was employed to write the article Moral Philosophy for the 'Modern Preceptor, which was afterwards published separately as The Elements of Moral Philosophy, London, 1754. It reached a fourth edition in 1769, and was translated into German, Zurich, 1757. Fordyce had already attracted some notice for his anonymous Dialogues concerning Education, 2 vols. London, 1745-8.
In 1750 he made a tour through France, Italy, and other countries, and was returning home in September 1751 when he lost his life in a storm off the coast of Holland. His death was noticed by his brother James Fordyce in one of his Addresses to the Deity.