A HANDBOOK OF ETHICAL THEORY
BY GEORGE STUART FULLERTON
We are all amply provided, with moral maxims, which we hold with more or less confidence, but an insight into their significance is not attained without reflection and some serious effort. Yet, surely, in a field in which there are so many differences of opinion, clearness of insight and breadth of view are eminently desirable.
It is with a view to helping students of ethics in our universities and outside of them to a clearer comprehension of the significance of morals and the end of ethical endeavor, that this book has been written.
I have, in the Notes appended to it, taken the liberty of making a few suggestions to teachers, some of whom have fewer years of teaching behind them than I have. I make no apology for writing in a clear and untechnical style, nor for reducing to a minimum references to literatures in other tongues than our own. These things are in accord with the aim of the volume.
I take this opportunity of thanking Professor Margaret F. Washburn, of Vassar College, and Professor F. J. E. Woodbridge, of Columbia University, for kind assistance, which I have found helpful.
G. S. F. New York, 1921.
THE ACCEPTED CONTENT OF MORALS
CHAPTER I. IS THERE AN ACCEPTED CONTENT? 1. The Point in Dispute. 2. What Constitutes Substantial Agreement? 3. Dogmatic Assumption.
CHAPTER II. THE CODES OF COMMUNITIES 4. The Codes of Communities: Justice. 5. The Codes of Communities: Veracity. 6. The Codes of Communities: the Common Good.
CHAPTER III. THE CODES OF THE MORALISTS 7. The Moralists. 8. Epicurean and Stoic. 9. Plato; Aristotle; the Church. 10. Later Lists of the Virtues. 11. The Stretching of Moral Concepts. 12. The Reflective Mind and the Moral Codes.
ETHICS AS SCIENCE
CHAPTER IV. THE AWAKENING TO REFLECTION 13. The Dogmatism of the Natural Man. 14. The Awakening.
CHAPTER V. ETHICAL METHOD 15. Inductive and Deductive Method. 16 The Authority of the "Given."
CHAPTER VI. THE MATERIALS OF ETHICS 17. How the Moralist should Proceed. 18. The Philosopher as Moralist.
CHAPTER VII. THE AIM OF ETHICS AS SCIENCE 19. The Appeal to Reason. 20. The Appeal to Reason Justified.
MAN AND HIS ENVIRONMENT
CHAPTER VIII. MAN'S NATURE 21. The Background of Actions. 22. Man's Nature. 23. How Discover Man's Nature?
CHAPTER IX. MAN'S MATERIAL ENVIRONMENT 24. The Struggle with Nature. 25. The Conquests of the Mind. 26. The Conquest of Nature and the Well-being of Man.
CHAPTER X. MAN'S SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT 27. Man is Assigned his Place. 28. Varieties of the Social Order. 29. Social Organization. 30. Social Order and Human Will.
THE REALM OF ENDS
CHAPTER XI. IMPULSE, DESIRE, AND WILL 31. Impulse. 32. Desire. 33. Desire of the Unattainable. 34. Will. 35. Desire and Will not Identical. 36. The Will and Deferred Action.
CHAPTER XII. THE PERMANENT WILL 37. Consciously Chosen Ends. 38. Ends not Consciously Chosen. 39. The Choice of Ideals.
CHAPTER XIII. THE OBJECT IN DESIRE AND WILL 40. The Object as End to be Realized. 41. Human Nature and the Objects Chosen. 42. The Instincts and Impulses of Man. 43. The Study of Man's Instincts Important. 44. The Bewildering Multiplicity of the Objects of Desire, and the Effort to Find an Underlying Unity.
CHAPTER XIV. INTENTION AND MOTIVE 45. Complex Ends. 46. Intention. 47. Motive. 48. Ethical Significance of Intention and Motive.
CHAPTER XV. FEELING AS MOTIVE 49. Feeling. 50. Feeling and Action. 51. Feeling as Object. 52. Freedom as Object.
CHAPTER XVI. RATIONALITY AND WILL 53. The Irrational Will. 54. One View of Reason. 55. Dominant and Subordinate Desires. 56. The Harmonization of Desires. 57. Varieties of Dominant Ends. 58. An Objection Answered. 59. This View of Reason Misconceived. 60. Another View of Reason.
THE SOCIAL WILL
CHAPTER XVII. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SOCIAL WILL 61. What is the Social Will? 62. Social Will and Social Habits. 63. Social Will and Social Organization. 64. The Social Will and Ideal Ends. 65. The Permanent Social Will.
CHAPTER XVIII. EXPRESSIONS OF THE SOCIAL WILL 66. Custom. 67. The Ground for the Authority of Custom. 68. The Origin and the Persistence of Customs. 69. Law. 70. Public Opinion.
CHAPTER XIX. THE SHARERS IN THE SOCIAL WILL 71. The Community. 72. The Community and the Dead. 73. The Community and the Supernatural. 74. Religion and the Community. 75. The Spread of the Community.
THE REAL SOCIAL WILL
CHAPTER XX. THE IMPERFECT SOCIAL WILL 76. The Apparent and the Real Social Will. 77. The Will of the Majority. 78. Ignorance and Error and the Social Will. 79. Heedlessness and the Social Will. 80. Rational Elements in the Irrational Will. 81. The Social Will and the Selfishness of the Individual.
CHAPTER XXI. THE RATIONAL SOCIAL WILL 82. Reasonable Ends. 83. An Objection Answered. 84. Reasonable Social Ends. 85. The Ethics of Reason. 86. The Development of Civilization.
CHAPTER XXII. THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE SOCIAL WILL 87. Man's Multiple Allegiance. 88. The Appeal to Reason. 89. The Ethics of Reason and the Varying Moral Codes.
THE SCHOOLS OF THE MORALISTS
CHAPTER XXIII. INTUITIONISM 90. What is it? 91. Varieties of Intuitionism. 92. Arguments for Intuitionism. 93. Arguments against Intuitionism. 94. The Value of Moral Intuitions.
CHAPTER XXIV. EGOISM 95. What is Egoism? 96. Crass Egoisms. 97. Equivocal Egoism? 98. What is Meant by the Self? 99. Egoism and the Broader Self. 100. Egoism not Unavoidable. 101. Varieties of Egoism. 102. The Arguments for Egoism. 103. The Argument against Egoism. 104. The Moralist's Interest in Egoism.
CHAPTER XXV. UTILITARIANISM 105. What is Utilitarianism? 106. Bentham's Doctrine. 107. The Doctrine of J. S. Mill. 108. The Argument for Utilitarianism. 109. The Distribution of Happiness. 110. The Calculus of Pleasures. 111. The Difficulties of Other Schools. 112. Summary of Arguments for Utilitarianism. 113. Arguments against Utilitarianism. 114. Transfigured Utilitarianism.
CHAPTER XXVI. NATURE, PERFECTION, SELF-REALIZATION I. Nature 115. Human Nature as Accepted Standard. 116. Human Nature and the Law of Nature. 117. Vagueness of the Law of Nature. 118. The Appeal to Nature and Intuitionism.
II. Perfection 119. Perfection and Type. 120. More and Less Perfect Types. 121. Perfectionism and Intuitionism.
III. Self-realization 122. The Self-realization Doctrine. 123. The Doctrine Akin to that of Following Nature. 124. Is the Doctrine More Egoistic? 125. Why Aim to Realize Capacities? 126. The Problem of Self-sacrifice. 127. Self-satisfaction and Self-sacrifice. 128. Can Moral Self-sacrifice be a Duty? 129. Self-sacrifice and the Identity of Selves. 130. Questions which Seem to be Left Open.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE ETHICS OF EVOLUTION 131. The Significance of the Title. 132. Evolution and the Schools of the Moralists. 133. The Ethics of Individual Evolutionists.
CHAPTER XXVIII. PESSIMISM 134. The Philosophy of the Pessimist. 135. Comment on the Ethics of Pessimism.
CHAPTER XXIX. KANT, HEGEL AND NIETZSCHE 136. Kant. 137. Hegel. 138. Nietzsche.
THE ETHICS OF THE SOCIAL WILL
CHAPTER XXX. ASPECTS OF THE ETHICS OF REASON 139. The Doctrine Supported by the Other Schools. 140. Its Method of Approach to Problems. 141. Its Solution of Certain Difficulties. 142. The Cultivation of Our Capacities.
CHAPTER XXXI. THE MORAL LAW AND MORAL IDEALS 143. Duties and Virtues. 144. The Negative Aspect of the Moral Law. 145. How Can One Know the Moral Law?
CHAPTER XXXII. THE MORAL CONCEPTS 146. Good and Bad; Right and Wrong. 147. Duty and Obligation. 148. Reward and Punishment. 149. Virtues and Vices. 150. Conscience.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE ETHICS OF THE INDIVIDUAL. 151. What is Meant by the Term? 152. The Virtues of the Individual. 153. Conventional Morality.
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE ETHICS OF THE STATE 154. The Aim of the State. 155. Its Origin and Authority. 156. Forms of Organization. 157. The Laws of the State. 158. The Rights and Duties of the State.
CHAPTER XXXV. INTERNATIONAL ETHICS 159. What is Meant by the Term. 160. Our Method of Approach to the Subject. 161. Some Problems of International Ethics. 162. The Other Side of the Shield. 163. The Solution. 164. The Necessity for Caution.
CHAPTER XXXVI. ETHICS AND OTHER DISCIPLINES 165. Sciences that Concern the Moralist. 166. Ethics and Philosophy. 167. Ethics and Religion. 168. Ethics and Belief. 169. The Last Word.
THE ACCEPTED CONTENT OF MORALS
IS THERE AN ACCEPTED CONTENT?
1. THE POINT IN DISPUTE.—Is there an accepted content of morals? Can we use the expression without going on to ask: Accepted where, when, and by whom?
To be sure, certain eminent moralists have inclined to maintain that men are in substantial agreement in regard to their moral judgments. Joseph Butler, writing in the first half of the eighteenth century, came to the conclusion that, however men may dispute about particulars, there is an universally acknowledged standard of virtue, professed in public in all ages and all countries, made a show of by all men, enforced by the primary and fundamental laws of all civil constitutions: namely, justice, veracity, and regard to common good. [Footnote: Dissertation on the Nature of Virtue.] Sir Leslie Stephen, writing in the latter half of the nineteenth, tells us that "in one sense moralists are almost unanimous; in another they are hopelessly discordant. They are unanimous in pronouncing certain classes of conduct to be right and the opposite wrong. No moralist denies that cruelty, falsity and intemperance are vicious, or that mercy, truth and temperance are virtuous." [Footnote: The Science of Ethics, chapter i, Sec. 1.]
In other words, these writers would teach us that men are, on the whole, agreed in approving, explicitly or implicitly, some standard of conduct sufficiently definite to serve as a code of morals. But that there is such a substantial agreement among men has not impressed all observers to the same degree. Locke, who wrote before Butler, based his arguments against the existence of innate moral maxims upon the wide divergencies found among various classes of men touching what is right and what is wrong. [Footnote: Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book I, chapter iii.] The historian, the anthropologist and the sociologist reinforce his reasonings with a wealth of illustration not open to the men of an earlier time. They present us with codes, not a code; with multitudinous standards, not a single standard; with what has been accepted here or there, at this time or at that; and we may well ask ourselves where, amid this profusion, we are to find the one and acceptable code.
2. WHAT CONSTITUTES SUBSTANTIAL AGREEMENT?—To be sure, we may be very generous in our interpretation of what constitutes substantial agreement; we may deny significance to all sorts of discrepancies by relegating them to the unimpressive class of "disputes about particulars." Such an impressionistic indifference to detail may leave us with something on our hands as little serviceable as a composite photograph made from individual objects which have little in common, a blur lacking all definite outline and not recognizable as any object at all. No man can guide his conduct by the common core of many or of all moral codes. Taken in its bald abstraction, it is not a code or anything like a code. Who can walk, without walking in some particular way, in some direction, at some time? Who can mind his manners without being mannerly in accordance with the usages of some race or people?
Those who content themselves with enunciating very general moral principles may, it is true, be of no little service to their fellow-men; but that is only because their fellow-men are able to supply the details that convert the blur into a picture. Some twenty-four hundred years ago Heraclitus told his contemporaries "to act according to nature with understanding"; we are often told today that the rule of our lives should be "to do good." Had the ancient Greek not possessed his own notions of what might properly be meant by nature and by understanding, did we not ourselves have some rather definite conception of what actions may properly fall under the caption of doing good, such admonitions could not lead to the stirring of a finger. Who would appeal to his physician for advice as to diet, if he expected from him no more than the counsel to eat, at the proper hours, enough, but not too much, of suitable food?
If, then, we confine our admonitions to the group of abstractions which constitute the universally acknowledged standard of virtue when all the individual differences which characterize different codes have been ignored, we preach what, taken alone, no man can live by, and no community of men has ever attempted to live by. If we leave it to our hearers to drape our naked abstractions with concrete details, each will set to work in a different way. The method of the composite photograph seems unprofitable in attempting to solve the problem of morals.
3. DOGMATIC ASSUMPTION.—There is, however, a second way by which the variations which characterize different codes may come to be relegated to a position of relative insignificance. We may assume that our own code is the ultimate standard by which all others are to be judged, and we may set down deviations from it to the account of the ignorance or the perversity of our fellowmen. So regarded, they are aberrations from the normal, and only true code of conduct; interesting, perhaps, but little enlightening, for they can have little bearing upon our conception of what we ought to do.
A presumption against this arbitrary assumption that we have the one and only desirable code is suggested the unthinking acceptance of the traditional by those who are lacking in enlightenment and in the capacity reflection. Is it not significant that a contact with new ways of thinking has a tendency, at least, to make men broaden their horizon and to revise some of their views?
In other fields, we hope to attain to a capacity for self-criticism. We expect to learn from other men. Why should we, in the sphere of morals, lay claim to the possession of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Why should we refuse to learn from anyone? Such a position seems unreasoning. It puts moral judgments beyond the pale of argument and intelligent discussion. It is an assumption of infallibility little in harmony with the spirit of science. The fact that a given standard of conduct is in harmony with our traditions, habits of thought, and emotional responses, does not prove to other men that it is, not one of a number of accepted codes, but in a quite peculiar sense acceptable, a thing to put in a class by itself—the class into which each mother puts her own child, as over against other children.
Moreover, such an unreasoned assumption of superiority must make one little sympathetic in one's attitude toward the moral life of other peoples. Into the significance of their social organization, of their customs, their laws, one can gain no insight. Their hopes, their fears, their strivings, their successes and their failures, their approval and disapproval of their fellows, their peace of conscience and their remorse, must leave us cold and aloof.
It is not profitable for us to assume at the outset that the differences exhibited in the moral judgments of individuals or of peoples are of minor significance. They are facts to be dealt with in the light of some theory. An ethical theory which ignores them must rest upon a narrow and insecure foundation. It is exposed to assault from many quarters. It may, in default of better means of defence, be compelled to take refuge behind the blind wall of dogmatic assertion. On the other hand, a theory which gives them frank recognition, and strives to exhibit their real significance in the life of the individual and of the race, may be able to show lying among them the golden cord of reason which saves them from the charge of being incoherent facts. It may even lead us back to a conservatism no longer unreasoning, but rationally defensible and conscious of its proper limits. The blindly conservative man seems to be faced with the alternative of stagnation or revolution. The rationally conservative may regard the development of the moral life as a Pilgrim's Progress, not without its untoward accidents, but, in spite of them, a gradual advance toward a desirable goal.
THE CODES OF COMMUNITIES
4. THE CODES OF COMMUNITIES: JUSTICE.—In view of the existing tendency in the average man, and even in some philosophers, to pass lightly over the diversities exhibited by different codes, it is well to cast a brief preliminary glance at the content of morals as accepted, both by communities of men, and by their more reflective spokesmen, the moralists. Let us first take a look at the codes of communities.
We have seen that Butler viewed justice, veracity and regard to common good as virtues accepted among men everywhere. But we may also see, if we look into his pages, that he neglected to point out that there may be the widest divergencies in men's notions of what constitutes justice, veracity and common good. And men differ widely on the score of the degree of emphasis to be laid upon their observance.
Take justice. Where men possess a code, written or unwritten, that may properly be called moral, we expect of them the judgment that guilt should be punished. But what shall be accounted guilt? What shall be the measure of retribution? Who shall be fixed upon as guilty?
As to what constitutes guilt. We have only to remind ourselves that the Dyak head-hunter is not condemned by his fellows, but is admired; [Footnote: WESTERMARCK, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, London, 1906, I, chapter xiv.] that the fattening and eating of a slave may, in a given primitive community, be accounted no crime; [Footnote: WESTERMARCK, op. cit. II, chapter xlvi.] that infanticide has been most widely approved, and that not merely in primitive communities, for Greece and Rome, when they were far from primitive, practiced certain forms of it with a view to the good of the state; [Footnote: Ibid., I, chapter xvii.] that the holding of a fellow-creature in bondage, and exploiting him for one's own advantage, even under the lash, was, until recently, not a crime in the eye of the law even in the most civilized states. On the other hand, it may be a crime to eat a female opossum. [Footnote: Ibid., I, chapter iv, p. 124.] The impressive imperative: Thou shalt not! appears to bear unmistakable reference to time and circumstance.
And what is the natural and proper measure of punishment? The ancient and primitive rule of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth suggests the figure of the scales, the impartially meting out to each man of his due. It is obviously a rule that cannot be applied in all cases. One cannot take the tooth of a toothless man, or compel a thievish beggar to restore fruit which he has eaten. We should be horrified were any serious attempt made to make the rule the basis of legislation in any civilized state today, but men have not always been so fastidious. Approximations to it have been incorporated into the laws of various peoples.
But all have modified it to some degree, and the modifications have taken many forms—the punishment of someone not the criminal, compensation in money or in goods, incarceration, and what not. Nor have the modifications been made solely on account of the difficulty of applying the rule baldly stated. Other influences have been at work.
Thus, in the famous Babylonian code, the man who struck out the eye of a patrician lost his own eye in return, and his tooth answered for the tooth of an equal—but the rule was not made general. [Footnote: 5 HOBHOUSE, Morals in Evolution, I, chapter iii, Sec 3; New York, 1906.] In state after state it has been found just to treat differently the patrician, the plebeian, the slave, the man, the woman, the priest. In the very state to which Butler belonged, benefit of clergy could be claimed, up to relatively recent times, by those who could read. The educated criminal escaped hanging for offences for which his illiterate neighbor had to swing. [Footnote: Ibid., Sec. 11.]
Nor is there any clear concensus of opinion touching the question of who shall be selected as the bearer of punishment. If a man has injured another unintentionally, shall he be held to make amends? It has seemed just to men that he should. [Footnote: WESTERMARCK, chapter ix.] That one man should be made responsible for the misdeeds of another, under the principle of collective responsibility, has commended itself as just to a multitude of minds. Not merely the sins of the fathers, but those of the most distant relations, those of neighbors, of fellow-tribesmen, of fellow-citizens, have been visited upon those whose sole guilt lay in such a connection with the directly guilty parties. This is not a sporadic phenomenon. Among the ancient Hebrews, in Babylonia, in Greece, in the later legislation of Rome, in medieval and even in modern Europe, the principle of collective responsibility has been accepted and has seemed acceptable. Asia, Africa and Oceania have cast votes for it. So have the Americas. [Footnote: WESTERMARCK, I, chapter ii; DEWEY AND TUFTS, Ethics, New York, 1919, Part I, chapter ii.]
5. THE CODES OF COMMUNITES: VERACITY.—As to veracity: It has undoubtedly been valued to some degree, and with certain limitations, by tribes and nations the most diverse in their degrees of culture. Did men never speak the truth they might well never speak at all. But to maintain that absolute veracity has at all times been greatly valued would be an exaggeration. The lie of courtesy, the clever lie, the lie to the stranger, have been and still are, in many communities both uncivilized and more advanced, not merely condoned, but approved. With the defence which has been made of the doctrines of mental reservation and pious fraud students of church history are familiar. In diplomacy and in war today highly civilized nations find deceptions of many sorts profitable to them, nor are such generally condemned. [Footnote: WESTERMARCK, II, chapters xxx and xxxi.]
What modern government does not employ secret service agents, and value them in proportion to the degree of skill with which they manage to deceive their fellows, while limiting the exercise of professional good faith to their intercourse with their paymaster? The secret service agent of transparent frankness, who could not bear to deceive his neighbor, would not hold his post for a day. He would be a subject for Homeric laughter.
Moreover, if the question may be raised: what constitutes justice? may one not equally well ask: what constitutes veracity or its opposite? Where does the silence of indifference shade into purposed concealment, and the latter into what is unequivocally deception? At what point does deception blossom out into the unmistakable lie? One may take advantage of an accidental misunderstanding of what one has said; one may use ambiguous language; one may point instead of speaking. Between going about with a head of glass, with all one's thoughts displayed as in a show-case to every comer, and the settled purpose to deceive by the direct verbal falsification, there is a long series of intermediate positions. The commercial maxim that one is not bound to teach the man with whom one is dealing how to conduct his business, and the lawyer's dictum that the advocate is under no obligation to put himself in the position of the judge, obviously, will bear much stretching.
6. THE CODES OF COMMUNITIES: THE COMMON GOOD.—Nor are the facts which confront us less perplexing when we turn to that "regard to the common good" which Butler finds to be acknowledged and enforced by the primary and fundamental laws of all civil constitutions. Whether we look at the past or view the present, whether we study primitive communities or confine ourselves to civilized nations, we see that common good is not, apparently, conceived as the good of all men, however much the words "justice" and "humanity" may be upon men's lips.
Has any modern state as yet succeeded in incorporating in its civil constitution such provisions as will ensure to all classes of its subjects any considerable share in the common good? Slaves and animals, said Aristotle, have no share in happiness, nor do they live after their own choice. [Footnote: Politics, iii, 9.] The pervading unrest of the modern economic community is due to the widespread conviction that the existing organization of society does not sufficiently make for the happiness of all. Some states with a high degree of culture have not even made a pretence of having any such aim. They have deliberately legislated for the few. [Footnote: The "citizens" of the ancient Greek state were a privileged class who legislated in their own interest. Let the reader look into Plato's Laws and Aristotle's Politics and see how inconceivable the cultivated Greek found what is now the ideal of a modern democracy. "Citizens" should own landed property, and work it by slaves, barbarians and servants. They should not be "ignoble" mechanics or petty traders. Compare the spirit of Froissart's Chronicles, in the Middle Ages. See what Bryce (South America, New York, 1918, chapters xi and xv) says about the position of the Negro in our Southern states, and of the Indians in South American republics.]
Even where the avowed aim is the common good of all, states have assumed that some must be sacrificed for others. Certain individuals are selected to die in the trenches in the face of the enemy, that others may be guaranteed liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Grotius, the famous jurist of the seventeenth century, has been criticized for holding that a beleaguered town might justly deliver up to the enemy a small number of its citizens in order to purchase immunity for the rest. How far do the cases differ in principle? "Among persons variously endowed," wrote Hegel, "inequality must occur, and equality would be wrong." [Footnote: Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, translated by Dyde, London, 1896, p. 56.] Commonwealths of many degrees of development have recognized inequalities of many sorts, and have treated their subjects accordingly.
"For diet," said Bentham with repellent frankness, "nothing but self- regarding affection will serve." Benevolence he considered a valuable addition "for a dessert." He had in mind the individual, and he did injustice to individuals in certain of their relations. But how do things look when we turn our attention to the relations between states? Does any state actually make it a practice to treat its neighbor as itself? Would its citizens approve of its doing so?
The Roman was compelled to formulate a jus gentium, a law of nations, to deal with those who held, to him, a place beyond the pale of law as he knew it. [Footnote: See SIR HENRY MAINE, Ancient Law, chapter iii.] Many centuries have elapsed since pagan philosophers taught the brotherhood of man, and since Christian divines began to preach it with passionate fervor. Yet civilized nations today are still seeking to find a modus vivendi, which may put an end to strife and enable them to live together. The jus gentium, or its modern equivalent, is, alas! still in its rudiments.
To obviate misunderstanding at this point, it is well to state that, in adducing all the above facts, I do not mean to argue that it is abnormal and an undesirable thing that the scales of justice should, at times, be weighted in divers ways. I am not maintaining that the distribution of common good should proceed upon the principle of strict impartiality. What is possible and is desirable in this field is not something to be decided off-hand. But the facts suffice to illustrate the truth that the discrepancies to be found in the codes of different communities can scarcely be dismissed as unimportant details. They are something far too significant for that.
THE CODES OF THE MORALISTS
7. THE MORALISTS.—If, from the codes, or the more or less vague bodies of opinion, which have characterized different communities, we turn to the moralists, we find similar food for thought.
But who are the moralists? Can we put into one class those who preach a short-sighted selfishness or a calculating egoism and those who urge upon us the law of love? Those who recommend a contempt of mankind, and those who inculcate a reverence for humanity? Those who incline to leave us to our own devices, telling us to listen to conscience, and those who draw up for us elaborate sets of rules to guide conduct? The histories of ethics are rather tolerant in herding together sheep and goats. And not without reason. Those whom they include have been in a sense the spokesmen of their fellows. Their words have found an echo in the souls of many. They are concerned with a rule of life, and their rule of life, such as it is, rests upon some principle which has impressed men as being not wholly unreasonable.
In taking a glance at what they have to offer us, I shall not go far afield, and shall exercise a brevity compatible with the purpose of mere illustration. To the moralists of ancient Greece, and, to a lesser degree, to those of the Roman Empire, to the Christian teachers who succeeded to their heritage in the centuries which followed, and to the more or less independent thinkers who made their appearance after the Reformation, we can trace our ethical pedigree. For our purpose we need seek no wider field. Here we may find sufficiently notable contrasts of opinion to disturb the dogmatic slumber of even an inert mind. The most cursory glance makes us inclined to accept with some reserve Stephen's claim that "the difference between different systems is chiefly in the details and special application of generally admitted principles."
8. EPICUREAN AND STOIC.—Thus, Aristippus of Cyrene advised men to grasp the pleasure of the moment rather than to await the more uncertain pleasure of the future; but he also counselled, for prudential reasons, the avoidance of a conflict with the laws. Such advice takes cognizance of the self-love of the individual, and is not self-love reasonable? Nevertheless, such advice might be given by a discouraged criminal of a reflective turn of mind, on his release from prison, to a comrade not yet chastened by incarceration. Epicurus praises temperance and fortitude, but only as measures of prudence. He praises justice, but only in so far as it enables us to escape harm, and frees us from that dread of discovery that haunts the steps of the evil-doer. His more specific maxims, do not fall in love with a woman, become the father of a family, or, generally, go into politics, smack strongly of the rule of life recommended to Feuillet's hero, Monsieur de Camors, by his worldly-wise and cynical father.
Contrast with these men the Stoics, whose rule of life was to follow Nature, and to eschew the pursuit of pleasure. Man's nature, said Epictetus, is social; wrongdoing is antisocial; affection is natural. [Footnote: Discourses, Book I, chapter xxiii—a clever answer to Epicurus.] Said Marcus Aurelius, it is characteristic of the rational soul for a man to love his neighbor. The cautious bachelor imbued with Epicurean principles would find strange and disconcerting the Stoic position touching citizenship: "My nature is rational and social; and my city and country, so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome, but so far as I am a man, it is the world. The things then which are useful to these cities are alone useful to me." [Footnote: Thoughts, Book VI, 44; translated by GEORGE LONG.]
9. PLATO; ARISTOTLE; THE CHURCH.—No more famous classification of the virtues—those qualities of character which it is desirable for a man to have, and which determine his doing what it is desirable that he should do—has ever been drawn up than that offered us by Plato: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice. [Footnote: For PLATO's account of the virtues see the Republic, Book IV, and the Laws, Book I.] It is interesting to lay beside it the longer list drawn up by Aristotle, and to compare both with that which commended itself to the mind of the mediaeval churchman.
With Aristotle, the virtues are made to include: [Footnote: Ethics; I refer the reader to the admirable exposition and criticism by SIDGWICK, History of Ethics, London, 1896, chapter ii, Sec 10-12; compare ZELLER, Aristotle and the Earlier Peripatetics, English translation London, 1897, Volume II, chapter xii.]
Wisdom High-mindedness Justice Ambition Courage Gentleness Temperance Friendliness Liberality Truthfulness Magnificence Decorous Wit
and it is suggested that, although scarcely a virtue, a sense of shame is becoming in youth.
We find the Christian teachers especially recommending: [Footnote: See SIDGWICK'S sympathetic account of the Churchman's view of the virtues, loc. cit., chapter iii.]
Obedience Patience Benevolence Purity Humility Alienation from the "World" Alienation from the "Flesh"
and their lists of the "deadly sins" they select from the following:
Pride Arrogance Anger Gluttony Unchastity Envy Vain-Glory Gloominess Languid Indifference.
Could there be a more striking contrast than that between the mediaeval code and those of the great Greek thinkers? Plato recommended as virtues certain general characteristics of character much admired by the Greek of his day. Aristotle accepted them and added to them. He has painted much more in detail the gifts and graces of a well-born and well-situated Greek gentleman as he conceived him. The personage would cut a sorry figure in the role of a mediaeval saint; the mediaeval saint would wear a tarnished halo if endowed with the Aristotelian virtues.
The one ideal, the Greek, breathes an air of self-assertion; the other one of self-abnegation. Benevolence, Purity, Humility and Unworldliness are not to be found in the former; Justice, Courage and Veracity appear to be missing in the latter. Wisdom, insight, has given place to the Obedience appropriate to a man clearly conscious of a Law, not man-made, to which man feels himself to be subject.
Indeed, the discrepancy between the ideals is such that Aristotle's virtuously high-minded man would have been conceived by the mediaeval churchman to be living in deadly sin, as the very embodiment of pride and arrogance. We find him portrayed as neither seeking nor avoiding danger, for there are few things about which he cares; as ashamed to accept favors, since that implies inferiority; as sluggish and indifferent except when stimulated by some great honor to be gained or some great work to be performed; as frank, for this is characteristic of the man who despises others; as admiring little, for nothing is great to him. His pride prevents him from harboring resentment, from seeking praise, and from praising others. This Nietzschean hero would attract attention upon any stage: "The step of the high-minded man is slow, his voice deep, and his language stately, for he who feels anxiety about few things is not apt to be in a hurry; and he who thinks highly of nothing is not vehement." [Footnote: Ethics, Book IV, chapter in, 19, translation by R. W. BROWNE, London, 1865.]
To be sure, virtues not on a given list may be found in, or read into, some of the writings of the man who presents it. It would be absurd to maintain that the mediaeval churchman had no regard for justice, courage and veracity, as he would define them, or that Plato and Aristotle were wholly deaf to the claims of benevolence. Nevertheless, the variations in the emphasis laid on this virtue or on that, or in the conception of what constitutes this virtue or that, may yield ideals of character and of conduct which bear but a slight family resemblance. Imagine St. Francis of Assisi lowering his voice, slowing his step, and cultivating "high- mindedness," or striving to make himself a pattern of decorous wit.
10. LATER LISTS OF THE VIRTUES.—The codes proposed by the moralists of a later time are numerous and widely scattering. It is impossible to do justice to them in any brief compass. A very few instances, selected from among those most familiar to English readers, must suffice to indicate the diversity of their nature.
Hobbes [Footnote: Leviathan, chapter xv.], deeply concerned to discover some modus vivendi which should put a check upon strife between man and his fellow-man, and save us from a life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," recommends among other virtues:
Justice Equity Requital of benefits Sociability A moderate degree of forgiveness The avoidance of pride and arrogance.
Locke [Footnote: Essay, Book IV, chapter iii, Sec. 18; Of Civil Government, Book II, chapter ii.], who believes that moral principles must be intuitively evident to one who contemplates the nature of God and the relations of men to Him and to each other, thinks it worth while to set down such random maxims as:
No government allows absolute liberty. Where there is no property there is no injustice. All men are originally equal. Men ought not to harm one another. Parents have a right to control their children.
Hume, [Footnote: An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Sec 6, Part I] whose two classes of virtues comprise the qualities immediately agreeable or useful to ourselves and those immediately agreeable or useful to others, offers us an extended list. He puts into the first class:
Discretion Caution Enterprise Industry Frugality Economy Good Sense, etc. Temperance Sobriety Patience Perseverance Considerateness Secrecy Order, etc.
In the second class he includes:
Benevolence Justice Veracity Fidelity Politeness Wit Modesty Cleanliness.
Manifestly, the lists may be indefinitely prolonged. Why not add to the first class the pachydermatous indifference to rebuffs which is of such service to the social climber, and, to the second, taste in dress and the habit of not repeating stories?
Thomas Reid lays stress upon the deliverances of the individual conscience, when consulted in a quiet hour. Nevertheless he proposes five fundamental maxims: [Footnote: On the Active Powers of Man, Essay V, chapter i.]
We ought to exercise a rational self-love, and prefer a greater to a lesser good. We should follow nature, as revealed in the constitution of man. We should exercise benevolence. Right and wrong are the same for all in the same circumstances. We should venerate and obey God.
With such writers we may contrast the Utilitarians and the adherents of the doctrine of Self-realization, [Footnote: These will be discussed below, chapters xxv and xxvi.] who lay little stress upon lists of virtues or duties, but aim, respectively, at the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and at the harmonious development of the faculties of man, regarding as virtues such qualities of character as make for the attainment, in the long run, of the one or the other of these ends.
11. THE STRETCHING OF MORAL CONCEPTS.—The instances given suffice to show that the moralists speak with a variety of tongues. The code of one age is apt to seem strange and foreign to the men of another. Even where there is apparent agreement, a closer scrutiny often reveals that it has been attained by a process of stretching conceptions. Take for example the so-called "cardinal" virtues [Footnote: From cardo, a hinge. These virtues were supposed to be fundamental. The name given to them was first used by AMBROSE in the fourth century A.D. See SIDGWICK, History of Ethics, chap, ii, p. 44.] dwelt upon by Plato. The Stoics, who made use of his list, changed its spirit. Cicero stretches justice so as to make it cover a watery benevolence. St. Augustine finds the cardinal virtues to be different aspects of Love to God. The great scholastic philosopher of the thirteenth century, St. Thomas, places in the first rank the Christian graces of Faith, Hope and Charity, but still finds it convenient to use the Platonic scheme in ordering a list of the self- regarding virtues taken from Aristotle. Thus may the pillars of a pagan temple be utilized as structural units in, or embellishments of, a Christian church.
Our own age reveals the same tendency. Thomas Hill Green, the Oxford professor, follows Plato. But with him we find wisdom stretched to cover artistic creation; we see that courage and temperance have taken on new faces; and justice appears to be able to gather under its wings both benevolence and veracity. [Footnote: Prolegomena to Ethics, Book III, chapter iii, and Book IV, chapter v.] A still wider divergence from the original understanding of the cardinal virtues is that of Dewey, who conceives of them as "traits essential to all morality." He treats, under temperance, of purity and reverence; he makes courage synonymous with persistent vigor; he extends justice so as to include love and sympathy; he transforms wisdom into conscientiousness. [Footnote: DEWEY AND TUFTS, Ethics, pp. 404-423.]
This variation in the content of moral concepts may be illustrated from any quarter in the field of ethics. Cicero's circumspect "benevolence" advances the doctrine that "whatever one can give without suffering loss should be given even to an entire stranger." Among such obligations he reckons: to prohibit no one from drinking at a stream of running water; to permit anyone who wishes to light fire from fire; to give faithful advice to one who is in doubt; which things, as he naively remarks, "are useful to the receiver and do no harm to the giver." [Footnote: De Officiis, Book I, chapter xvi.]
Compare with this the admonition to love one's neighbor as oneself; Sidgwick's "self-evident" proposition that "I ought not to prefer my own lesser good to the greater good of another;" [Footnote: The Methods of Ethics, Book III, chapter xiii, Sec 3.] Bentham's utilitarian formula, "everybody to count for one, and nobody for more than one." The admonition, "be benevolent," may mean many things.
12. THE REFLECTIVE MIND AND THE MORAL CODES.—Even the cursory glance we have given above to the moral codes of different communities and those proposed by individual moralists must suffice to bring any thoughtful man to the consciousness that they differ widely among themselves, and that the differences can scarcely be dismissed as insignificant. A little reflection will suffice to convince him, furthermore, that to treat all other codes as if they were mere pathological variations from his own is indefensibly dogmatic.
On the other hand, the differences between codes should not be unduly emphasized. The core of identity is there, and, although in its bald abstractness it is not enough to live by, it is vastly significant, nevertheless. If there were not some congruity in the materials, they would never be brought together as the subject of one science. Unless "good," "right," "obligation," "approval," etc., or the rudimentary conceptions which foreshadow them in the mind of the most primitive human beings, had a core of identity which could be traced in societies the most diverse, there would be no significance in speaking of the enlightened morality of one people and the degraded and undeveloped morality of another. There could be no history of the development of the moral ideas. Collections of disparate and disconnected facts do not constitute a science, nor are they the proper subject of a history.
As a matter of fact, we all do speak of degraded moral conceptions, of a perverted conscience, of a lofty morality, of a fine sense of duty; we do not hesitate to compare, i. e., to treat as similar and yet dissimilar, the customs, laws and ethical maxims of different ages and of different races. This means that we have in our minds some standard, perhaps consciously formulated, perhaps dimly apprehended, according to which we rate them. The unreflective man is in danger of taking as this standard his own actual code, such as it is; of accepting, together with such elements of reason as it may contain, the whole mass of his inherited or acquired prejudices; the more reflective man will strive to be more rationally critical.
ETHICS AS SCIENCE
THE AWAKENING TO REFLECTION
13. THE DOGMATISM OF THE NATURAL MAN.—In morals and in politics it seems natural for man to be dogmatic, to take a position without hesitation, to defend it vehemently, to maintain that others are in the wrong.
This is not surprising. We are born into a moral environment as into an all-embracing atmosphere. From the cradle to the grave, we walk with our heads in a cloud of exhortations and prohibitions. From our earliest years we have been urged to make decisions and to act, and we have been furnished with general maxims to guide our action. When, therefore, we approach the solution of a moral problem, we do not, as a rule, acutely feel our fitness to solve it, even though we may be judged quite unfit by others.
This unruffled confidence in one's possession of an adequate supply of indubitable moral truth may be found in men who differ widely in their degree of intelligence and in the extent of their information. Some individuals seem born to it. We may come upon it in the ethical philosopher; we may meet it in the man of science, who knows that it has taken him a quarter of a century to fit himself to be an authority in matters chemical or physical, but who wanders in his hours of leisure into the field of ethics and has no hesitation in proposing radical reforms. But it is more natural to look for the unwavering confidence which knows no questionings among persons of restricted outlook, who have been brought into contact with but one set of opinions. It is characteristic of the child, of the uncultivated classes in all communities, of whole communities primitive in their culture and relatively unenlightened.
14. THE AWAKENING.—Manifestly, even the beginnings of ethical science are an impossibility where such a spirit prevails. Where there are no doubts, no questionings, there can be no attempt at rational construction.
Fortunately for the cause of human enlightenment there are forces at work which tend to arouse men from this state of lethargy. Horizons are broadened, new ideas make their appearance, there is a conflict of authorities, the birth of a doubt, and, finally, a more or less articulate appeal to Reason.
Even a child is capable of seeing that paternal and maternal injunctions and reactions are not wholly alike, and it sets them off against each other. Nor have all the children in the home precisely the same nature. One is temperamentally frank and open, but unsympathetic; another is affectionate, and prone to lying as the sparks fly upward. The virtues and vices are not spontaneously arranged in the same order of importance by children, and differences of opinion may arise. Nor does it take the child long to discover that the law of its own home is not identical with that of the house next door. At school the experience is repeated on a larger scale; many homes are represented, and, besides that, two codes of law claim allegiance, the code of the schoolboy and that of the master. They may be by no means in accord.
And when, in college, the student for the first time seriously addresses himself to the task of the study of ethics as science, he comes to it by no means wholly unprepared. He has had rather a broad experience of the contrasts which obtain between different codes. He is familiar with the code of the home, of the school, of the social class, of the religious community, of the civil community. There sit on the same benches with him the sensitively conscientious student who doubts whether it is a permissible deception of one's neighbor to apply a patch to an old garment so skillfully that it will escape detection; the sporting character who takes it to be the mutual understanding among men that truth shall not be demanded of those who deal in horses and dogs; the youth from Texas who claims that the French philosopher, Janet, cannot be an authority on morals, since he asserts that he who cheats at cards must feel a burning shame. With the ethics of the ancient Hebrews, of the Greeks, of the Romans, our young moralist has had the opportunity to acquire some familiarity, and he can compare them, if he will, with the Christian ethics of his own day. He knows something of history and biography; he has read books of travel, and has some acquaintance with the manners and customs of other peoples. Were he given to reflection, it ought not to surprise him to find a Portuguese sea-cook maintaining that it is wrong to steal, except from the rich; or to learn that a Wahabee saint rated the smoking of tobacco as the worst possible sin next to idolatry, while maintaining that murder, robbery, and such like, were peccadilloes which a merciful God might properly overlook.
Material for reflection he has in abundance—and he often remains relatively dogmatic and unplagued by doubt. But only relatively so; and only so long as the claims of conflicting authorities are not forced upon his attention, rendered importunate in the light of discussion, made so familiar as to seem real and substantial. It is the tendency of the widening of the horizon to arouse men to reflection, to stimulate to criticism. From such criticism the science of ethics has its birth.
What is true of the individual is true of men in the mass. The blind life of social classes long laid in chains by custom and tradition may come to be illuminated by new ideas, and passive acquiescence may give way to active participation in social endeavor. Nor can primitive peoples remain wholly primitive except in isolation. With the increased intercourse between races and peoples, men are brought to a clear consciousness that the accepted in morals is manifold and diverse; the next step is to question whether it is, in any given instance, of unquestionable authority; thus do men become ripe for the search for the acceptable.
15. INDUCTIVE AND DEDUCTIVE METHOD.—Professor Henry Sidgwick has defined a method of ethics as "any rational procedure by which we determine what is right for individual human beings to do, or to seek to realize by voluntary action." [Footnote: The Methods of Ethics, Book I, chapter i, Sec I.]
He points out that many methods are natural and are habitually used, but claims that only one can be rational. By which he means that the several methods of determining right conduct urged by the different schools of the moralists must be reconciled, or all but one must be rejected. [Footnote: Ibid., chapter i, Sec 3.]
In this chapter I shall not discuss in detail the schools of the moralists and the specific methods which characterize them. I am here concerned only with the general distinction between the scientific methods of deduction and induction, and its bearing upon ethical investigations.
How do we discover that, in an isosceles triangle, the sides which subtend the equal angles are equal? We do not go about collecting the opinions of individuals upon the subject, nor do we consult the records of other peoples, past or present. We do not measure a great number of triangles and arrive at our conclusion after a calculation of the probable error of our measurements. The appeal to authorities does not interest us; that measurements are always more or less inaccurate, and that all actual triangles are more or less irregular, we freely admit, but we do not regard such facts as significant. We use a single triangle as an illustration, and from what is given in, or along with, that individual instance, we deduce certain consequences in which we have the highest confidence. Here we follow the method of deduction. We accept a "given," with its validity we do not concern ourselves; our aim is the discovery of what may be gotten out of it.
In the inductive sciences the individual instance has an importance of quite a different sort. It is not a mere illustration, unequivocally embodying a general truth to which we may appeal directly, treating the instance as a mere vehicle, in itself of little significance. Individual instances are observed and compared; uniformities are searched for; it is sought to establish general truths, not directly evident, but whose authority rests upon the particular facts that have been observed and classified.
It is a commonplace of logic that both induction and deduction may be employed in many fields of science. We may attain by inductive inquiry to more or less general truths, which we no longer care to call in question, and which we accept as a "given," to be exploited and carried out in its consequences. Indeed, we need not betake ourselves to science to have an illustration of this method of procedure. In everyday life men have maxims by which they judge of the probable actions of their fellow-men and in the light of which they direct their dealings with them. Such maxims as that men may be counted upon to consult their own interests have certainly not been adopted independently of an experience of what, on particular occasions, men have shown themselves to be. But, once adopted, they may be treated as, for practical purposes, unquestionable; men are concerned to apply them, not to substantiate them. In so far, men reason from them deductively and pass from the general rule to the particular instance.
16. THE AUTHORITY OF THE "GIVEN."—Obviously the "given," in the sense indicated, may possess, in certain cases, a very high degree of authority, and, in others, a very low degree.
In the case of the mathematical truth referred to above, men do not, in fact, find it necessary to call in question the "given," though they may be divided in their notions touching the general nature of mathematical evidence and whence it draws its apparently indisputable authority. In certain of the inductive sciences, as in mechanics, physics and chemistry, generalizations have been attained in which even the critical repose much confidence. In other fields men are constantly making general statements which are promptly contradicted by their fellows, and are drawing from them inferences the justice of which is in many quarters disallowed. There are axioms and axioms, maxims and maxims. The confidence felt by a given individual in a particular "given" does not guarantee its acceptance by all men of equal intelligence. Where, however, the evidence upon which a disputed "given" is based is forthcoming, there is, at least, ground for rational discussion.
Not a few famous writers have treated moral truths as analogous to mathematical. [Footnote: See the chapter on "Intuitionism," Sec 90, note.] To take here a single instance. Sidgwick, in his truly admirable work on "The Methods of Ethics," maintains [Footnote: Book III, chapter xiii, Sec 3.] that "the propositions, 'I ought not to prefer a present lesser good to a future greater good,' and 'I ought not to prefer my own lesser good to the greater good of another,' do present themselves as self-evident; as much (e.g.) as the mathematical axiom that 'if equals be added to equals the wholes are equals.'"
But it is one thing to claim that we are in possession of a "given" with ultimate and indisputable authority; it is another to convince men that we really do possess it. Locke's efforts at deduction fall lamentably short of the model set by Euclid. "Professor Sidgwick's well-known moral axiom, 'I ought not to prefer my own lesser good to the greater good of another,' would," writes Westermarck, [Footnote: Op. cit., Volume I, chapter i, p. 12.] "if explained to a Fuegian or a Hottentot, be regarded by him, not as self-evident, but as simply absurd; nor can it claim general acceptance even among ourselves. Who is that 'Another' to whose greater good I ought not to prefer my own lesser good? A fellow- countryman, a savage, a criminal, a bird, a fish—all without distinction?" To Bentham's "everybody to count for one and nobody for more than one" may be opposed Hartley's preference of benevolent and religious persons to the rest of mankind. [Footnote: Observations on Man, Part II, chapter iii, 6.]
The fact that men eminent for their intellectual ability and for the breadth of their information are, in morals, inclined to accept, as ultimate, principles not identical, and thus to found different schools, would seem to indicate that, to one who aims at treating ethics as a science, principles, as well as the deductions from them, should be objects of closest scrutiny. They should not be taken for granted. The history of ethical theory appears to make it clear that the "given" of the moralist is not of the same nature as that of the geometer.
The ethical philosopher cannot, hence, confine himself to developing deductively the implications of some principle or principles assumed without critical examination. He must establish the validity even of his principles. This we should bear in mind when we approach the study of the different ethical schools.
THE MATERIALS OF ETHICS
17. HOW THE MORALIST SHOULD PROCEED.—The above reflections on method suggest the materials of which the moralist should avail himself in rearing the edifice of his science.
(1) Evidently he should reflect upon the moral judgments which he finds in himself, the moral being with whom he is best acquainted. He should endeavor to render consistent and luminous moral judgments which, as he finds, have too often been inconsistent and more or less blind.
(2) He should take cognizance of his own setting—of the social conscience embodied in the community in which he lives.
(3) And since, as we have seen, the significance, either of the individual conscience, or of the social conscience revealed in custom, law and public opinion, can hardly become apparent to one who does not bring within his horizon many consciences individual and social, he should enlarge his view so as to include such. The moralists, in our day, show an increasing tendency to pay serious attention to this mass of materials. They do not confine their attention to the moral standard which this man or that has accepted as authoritative for him, nor to that accepted as authoritative in a given community. They study man— man in all stages of his development and in material and social settings the most diverse.
(4) Nor should the student of ethics overlook the work which has been done by those moralists who have gone before him. He who has studied descriptive anatomy is aware of the immense service which has been done him by the unwearied observations of his predecessors; observations which have been put on record, and which draw his attention to numberless details of structure that would, without such aid, certainly escape his attention. Ethics is an ancient discipline. It has fixed the attention of acute minds for many centuries. He who approaches the subject naively, without an acquaintance with the many ethical theories which have been advanced and the acute criticisms to which they have been subjected, will almost certainly say what someone has said before, and said, perhaps, much better. The valor of ignorance will involve him in ignominious defeat.
(5) It is evident that the moralist must make use of materials offered him by workers in many other fields of science. The biologist may have valuable suggestions to make touching the impulses and instincts of man. The psychologist treats of the same, and exhibits the work of the intellect in ordering and organizing the impulses. He studies the phenomena of desire, will, habit, the formation of character. The anthropologist and the sociologist are concerned with the codes of communities and with the laws of social development. The fields of economics, politics and comparative jurisprudence obviously march with that cultivated by the student of ethics.
18. THE PHILOSOPHER AS MORALIST.—In all these sciences at once it is not possible for the moralist to be an adept. The mass of the material they furnish is so vast that the ethical writer who starts out to master it in all its details may well dread that he may be overcome by senility before he is ready to undertake the formulation of an ethical theory.
It does not follow, however, that he should leave to those who occupy themselves professionally with any of these fields the task of framing a theory of morals. He must have sufficient information to be able to select with intelligence what has some important bearing upon the problem of conduct, but there are many details into which he need not go. It is well to note the following points:
(1) A multitude of details may be illustrative of a comparatively small number of general principles. It is with these general principles that the moralist is concerned. The anthropologist may regard it as his duty to spend much labor in the attempt to discover why this or that act, this or that article of food, happens in a given community to be taboo to certain persons. The student of ethics is not bound to take up the detailed investigation of such matters. Human nature, in its general constitution, is much the same in different races and peoples. The influence of environment is everywhere apparent. There are significant uniformities to be discovered even by one who has a limited amount of detailed information. "Those who come after us will see nothing new," said Antoninus, "nor have those before us seen anything more, but in a manner he who is forty years old; if he has any understanding at all, has seen by virtue of the uniformity which prevails all things which have been and all that will be." [Footnote: Thoughts, XI, 1. London, 1891, translated by GEORGE LONG.] Which is, to be sure, an overstatement of the case, but one containing a germ of truth.
(2) We find, by looking into their books, that men most intimately acquainted with the facts of the moral life as revealed in different races and peoples may differ widely in the ethical doctrine which they are inclined to base upon them. Not all men, even when endowed with no little learning, are gifted with the clearness of vision which can detect the significance of given facts; nor are all equally capable of weaving relevant facts into a consistent and reasonable theory. The keenness and the constructive genius of the individual count for much. And breadth of view counts for much also. We have seen that ethics touches many fields of investigation, and the philosopher is supposed, at least, to let his vision range over a broad realm, and to grasp the relations of the different sciences to each other. He is, moreover, supposed to be trained in reflective analysis, and of this ethical theory appears to stand in no little need.
(3) Finally, the mere fact that ethics has for so many centuries been regarded as one of the disciplines falling within the domain of the philosopher is not without its significance. One may deplore the tendency to base ethics upon this or that metaphysical doctrine, and desire to see it made an independent science; and yet one may be compelled to admit that it is not easy to comprehend and to estimate the value of many of the ethical theories which have been evolved in the past, without having rather an intimate acquaintance with the history of philosophy. The ethical teachings of Plato, of Aristotle, of St. Thomas, of Kant, of Hegel, of Green, lose much of their meaning when taken out of their setting. The history of ethical theory is blind when divorced from the history of philosophy, and with the history of ethical theory the moralist should be acquainted.
The philosopher has no prescriptive right to preempt the field of ethics. Many men may cultivate it with profit. Nevertheless, he, too, should cultivate it, not independently and with a disregard of what has been done by others, but in a spirit of hearty cooperation, thankfully accepting such help as is offered him by his neighbors.
THE AIM OF ETHICS AS SCIENCE
19. THE APPEAL TO REASON.—The proper aim of the scientific study of ethics appears to be suggested with sufficient clearness by what has been said in the chapters on the accepted content of morals.
Where individuals take up unreflectively the maxims which are to control their conduct, human life can scarcely be said to be under the guidance of reason. Where, moreover, the codes of individuals clash with each other or with the social conscience of their community, and where the codes of different communities are disconcertingly diverse, planful concerted action with a view to the control of conduct appears to be impracticable. Historical accident, blind impulse and caprice, cannot serve as guides for a rational creature seeking to live, along with others, a rational life.
"The aim of ethics," says Sidgwick, [Footnote: The Methods of Ethics, Book I, chapter vi, Sec 1.] "is to render scientific—i.e., true, and as far as possible systematic—the apparent cognitions that most men have of the rightness or reasonableness of conduct, whether the conduct be considered as right in itself, or as the means to some end conceived as ultimately reasonable." The use here of the word "cognitions" calls our attention to the fact that, when men say, "this is right, that is wrong," they mean no more than, "this I like, that I do not like"; and the use of the word "apparent" indicates that the judgments expressed may be approved by the man who makes them, and yet be erroneous. The appeal is to an objective standard; there is a demand for proof.
That most men recognize, in some cases dimly, in some cases clearly and explicitly, that the appeal to such a standard is justifiable, can scarcely be denied. Between "I choose" and "I ought to choose," between "the community demands," and "the community ought to demand," men generally recognize a distinction when they have attained to a capacity for reflection.
It has, however, been denied that the appeal is justifiable, and denied by no mean authority. "The presumed objectivity of moral judgments," writes Westermarck, [Footnote: 2 The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, chapter i, p. 17.] "being a chimera, there can be no moral truth in the sense in which this term is generally understood. The ultimate reason for this is, that the moral concepts are based upon emotions, and that the contents of an emotion fall entirely outside the category of truth. But it may be true or not that we have a certain emotion, it may be true or not that a given mode of conduct has a tendency to evoke in us moral indignation or moral approval. Hence a moral judgment is true or false according as its subject has or has not that tendency which the predicate attributes to it. If I say that it is wrong to resist evil, and yet resistance to evil has no tendency whatever to call forth in me an emotion of moral disapproval, then my judgment is false." The conclusion drawn from this is that there are no general moral truths, and that "the object of scientific ethics cannot be to fix rules for human conduct"; it can only be "to study the moral consciousness as a fact."
20. THE APPEAL TO REASON JUSTIFIED.—The words of so high an authority should not be passed over lightly. One is impelled to seek for their proper appreciation and their reconciliation with the judgment of other moralists. Such can be found, I think, by turning to two truths dwelt upon in what has preceded: the truth that the moralist should not assume that he is possessed of a "given" analogous to that of the geometer—a standard in no need of criticism; and the equally important truth that the moralist cannot hope to frame a code which will simply replace the codes of individual communities and will prescribe the details of human conduct while ignoring such codes altogether.
But it does not seem to follow that, because the moralist may not set up an arbitrary code of this sort, he is also forbidden to criticize and compare moral judgments, to arrange existing codes in a certain order as lower and higher, to frame some notion of what constitutes progress. He may hold before himself, in outline, at least, an ideal of conduct, and not one taken up arbitrarily but based upon the phenomena of the moral consciousness as he has observed them. And in the light of this ideal he may judge of conduct; his appeal is to an objective standard.
Thus, he who says that it is false that it is right to reduce to slavery prisoners taken in war may, if he be sufficiently unreflective, have no better reason for his judgment than a feeling of repugnance to such conduct. But, if he has risen to the point of taking broad views of men and their moral codes, he may very well assert the falsity of the statement even when he feels no personal repugnance to the holding of certain persons as slaves. His appeal is, in fact, to such a standard as is above indicated, and his condemnation of certain forms of conduct is based upon their incompatibility with it.
Hence, a man may significantly assert that certain conduct is objectively desirable, although it may not be desired by himself or by his community. He may judge a thing to be wrong without feeling it to be wrong. Whether anything would actually be judged to be wrong, if no one ever had any emotions, is a different question. With it we may class the question whether anything would be judged to be wrong if no one were possessed of even a spark of reason. There is small choice between having nothing to see and not being able to see anything. [Footnote: That, in the citation above given, WESTERMARCK'S attention was concentrated upon the extreme position taken by some moralists touching the function of the reason in moral judgments seems to me evident. He is far too able an observer to overlook the significance of the diversity of moral codes and the meaning of progress. He writes: "Though rooted in the emotional side of our nature, our moral opinions are in a large measure amenable to reason. Now in every society the traditional notions as to what is good or bad, obligatory or indifferent, are commonly accepted by the majority of people without further reflection. By tracing them to their source it will be found that not a few of these notions have their origin in sentimental likings and antipathies, to which a scrutinizing and enlightened judge can attach little importance; whilst, on the other hand, he must account blamable many an act and omission which public opinion, out of thoughtlessness, treats with indifference." Vol. I, pp. 2-3. See also his appeals to reason where it is a question of the attitude of the community toward legal responsibility on the part of the young, toward drunkenness, and toward the heedless production of offspring doomed to misery and disease, pp. 269 and 310.]
An appeal, thus, from the actual to the ideal appears to be possible. And, since the natural man, unenlightened and unreflective, is not more inclined to show himself to be a reasonable being in the sphere of morals than elsewhere, it seems that there is no little need of ethical science. Its aim is to bring about the needed enlightenment. Its value can only be logically denied by those who maintain seriously that it is easy to know what it is right to do. Do men really hold this, if they are thoughtful?
MAN AND HIS ENVIRONMENT
21. THE BACKGROUND OF ACTIONS.—In estimating human actions we take into consideration both the doer and the circumstances under which the deed was done. Actions may be desirable or undesirable, good or bad, according to their setting. How shall we judge of the blow that takes away human life? It may be the involuntary reaction of a man startled by a shock; it may be a motion of justifiable self-defence; it may be one struck at the command of a superior and in the defence of one's country; it may be the horrid outcome of cruel rapacity or base malevolence.
Nor are the emotions, torn out of their context, more significant than actions without a background. They are mental phenomena to be observed and described by the psychologist; to the moralist they are, taken alone, as unmeaning as the letters of the alphabet, but, like them, capable in combination of carrying many meanings. Anger, fear, wonder, and all the rest are, as natural emotions, neither good nor bad; they are colors, which may enter into a picture and in it acquire various values.
In morals, when men have attained to the stage of enlightenment at which moral estimation is a possible process, they always consider emotions, intentions, and actions in the light of their background. We do not demand a moral life of the brutes; we do not look for it in the intellectually defective and the emotionally insane; nor do we expect a savage caught in the bush to harbor the same emotions, or to have the same ethical outlook, as the missionary with whom we may confront him. The concepts of moral responsibility, of desert, of guilt, are emptied of all significance, when we lose sight of the nature, inborn or acquired, of the creature haled before the bar of our judgment, and of the environment, which on the one hand, impels him to action, and, on the other, furnishes the stage upon which the drama of his life must be played out to the end.
Hence, he who would not act as the creature of blind impulse or as the unthinking slave of tradition, but would exercise a conscious and intelligent control over his conduct, seems compelled to look at his life and its setting in a broad way, to scrutinize with care both the nature of man and the environment without which that nature could find no expression. When he does this, he only does more intelligently what men generally do instinctively and somewhat at haphazard. He seeks a rational estimate of the significance of conduct, and a standard by which it may be measured.
22. MAN'S NATURE.—Moralists ancient and modern have had a good deal to say about the nature of man. To some of them it has seemed rather a simple thing to describe it. Its constitution, as they have conceived it, has furnished them with certain principles which should guide human action. Aristotle, who assumed that every man seeks his own good, conceived of his good or "well-being" as largely identical with "well- doing." This "well-doing" meant to him "fulfilling the proper functions of man," or in other words acting as the nature of man prescribes. [Footnote: Politics, i, 2. See, further, on Man's Nature, chapter xxvi.] To the Stoic man's duty was action in accordance with his nature. [Footnote: MARCUS AURELIUS, Thoughts, v, 1.] Butler, [Footnote: Sermons on Human Nature, ii] many centuries later, found in man's nature a certain "constitution," with conscience naturally supreme and the passions in a position of subordination. This "constitution" plainly indicated to him the conduct appropriate to a human being.
Such appeals to man's nature we are apt to listen to with a good deal of sympathy. Manifestly, man differs from the brutes, and they differ, in their kind, from each other. To each kind, a life of a certain sort seems appropriate. The rational being is expected to act rationally, to some degree, at least. In our dealings with creatures on a lower plane, we pitch our expectations much lower.
And the behavior we expect from each is that appropriate to its kind. The bee and the ant follow unswervingly their own law, and live their own complicated community life. However the behavior of the brute may vary in the presence of varying conditions, the degree of the variation seems to be determined by rather narrow limits. These we recognize as the limits of the nature of the creature. It dictates to itself, unconsciously, its own law of action, and it follows that law simply and without revolt.
When we turn to man, "the crown and glory of the universe," as Darwin calls him, we find him, too, endowed with a certain nature in an analogous sense of the word. He has capacities for which we look in vain elsewhere. The type of conduct we expect of him has its root in these capacities. Human nature can definitely be expected to express itself in a human life,—one lower or higher, but, in every case, distinguishable from the life of the brute. It means something to speak of the physical and mental constitution of man, that mysterious reservoir from which his emotions and actions are supposed to flow. We feel that we have a right to use the expression, even while admitting that the brain of man is, as far as psychology is concerned, almost unexplored territory, and that the relation of mind to brain is, and is long likely to remain, a subject of dispute with philosophers and psychologists.
23. HOW DISCOVER MAN'S NATURE?—Nevertheless, in speaking of the nature of any living creature, we are forced to remind ourselves that the original endowment of the creature studied can never be isolated and subjected to inspection independently of the setting in which the subject of our study is found. Who, by an examination of the brain of a bee or of an ant, could foresee the intricate organized industry of the hive or the anthill? The seven ages of man are not stored ready-made in the little body of the infant. At any rate, they are beyond the reach of the most penetrating vision. In the case of the simple mechanisms which can be constructed by man a forecast of future function is possible on the basis of a general knowledge of mechanics. But there is no living being of whose internal constitution we have a similar knowledge. From the behavior of the creature we gather a knowledge of its nature; we do not start with its nature as directly revealed and infer its behavior. That there are differences in the internal constitution of beings which react to the same environment in different ways, we have every reason to believe. What those differences are in detail we cannot know. And our knowledge of the capacities inherent in this or that constitution will be limited by what we can observe of its reaction to environment.
Sometimes the reaction to environment is relatively simple and uniform. In this case we feel that we can attain without great difficulty to what may be regarded as a satisfactory knowledge of the nature of the creature studied. The conception of that nature appears to be rather definite and unequivocal. When it is once attained, we speak with some assurance of the way in which the creature will act in this situation or in that. If, however, the capacities are vastly more ample, and the environment to which this creature is adjusted is greatly extended, the difficulty of describing in any unequivocal way the nature of the creature becomes indefinitely greater.
Is it possible to contemplate man without being struck with the breadth and depth of the gulf which separates the primitive human being from the finished product of civilization? What a difference in range of emotion, in reach of intellect, in stored information, in freedom of action, between man at his lowest and man at his highest! Can we describe in the same terms what is natural to man everywhere and always?
For the filthy and ignorant savage, absorbed in satisfying his immediate bodily needs, standing in the simplest of social relations, taking literally no thought for the morrow, profoundly ignorant of the world in which he finds himself, possessing over nature no control worthy of the name, the sport and slave of his environment, it is natural to act in one way. For enlightened humanity, acquainted with the past and forecasting the future, developed in intellect and refined in feeling, rich in the possession of arts and sciences, intelligently controlling and directing the forces of nature, socially organized in highly complicated ways, it is natural to act in another way. And to each of the intermediate stages in the evolution of civilization some type of conduct appears to be appropriate and natural.
Whither, then, shall we turn for our conception of man's nature? Shall we merely draw up a list of the instincts and impulses which may be observable in all men? Shall we say no more than that man is gifted with an intelligence superior to that of the brutes? To do this is, to be sure, to give some vague indication of man's original endowment. But it can give us little indication of what it is possible for man, with such an endowment, and in such an environment as makes his setting, to become. And what man becomes, that he is.
If man's nature can be revealed only through the development of his capacities, it is futile to seek it in a return to undeveloped man. The nature of the chicken is not best revealed in the egg. And, as man can develop only in interaction with his environment, we must, to understand him, study his environment also.
MAN'S MATERIAL ENVIRONMENT
24. THE STRUGGLE WITH NATURE.—It is not possible to disentangle from each other and to consider quite separately the diverse elements which enter into the environment of man and which influence his development. His environment is two-fold, material and social; but his material setting may affect his social relations, and it is social man, not the individual as such, that achieves a conquest over nature. However, it is possible, and it is convenient, to direct attention successively upon the one and the other aspect of his environment.
At every stage of his development, man must have food, shelter, some means of defense. If they are not easily obtainable, he must strain every nerve to attain them. Are his powers feeble and his intelligence undeveloped, it may tax all his efforts to keep himself alive and to continue the race in any fashion. The rules which determine his conduct seem rather the dictates of a stern necessity than the products of anything resembling free choice.
He who is lashed by hunger and haunted by fear, who cannot provide for the remote future, but must accept good or ill fortune as the accident of the day precipitates his lot upon him, lives and must live a life at but one remove from that of the brute. In such a life the instincts of man attain to a certain expression, but intelligence plays a feeble part. The man remains a slave, under dictation, and moved by the dread of immediate disaster. For an interest in what is remote in time and place, for the extension of knowledge for its own sake, for the development of activities which have no direct bearing upon the problem of keeping him alive and fed, there can be little place. One must be assured that one can live, and live in reasonable security and physical well-being, before the problem of enriching and embellishing life can fairly present itself as an important problem. One must be set free before one can deliberately set out to shape one's life after an ideal.
Not that a severe struggle with physical nature is necessarily and of itself a curse. It may call out man's powers, stimulate to action, and result in growth and development. Where a prodigal nature amply provides for man's bodily necessities without much effort on his part, the result may be, in the absence of other stimulating influences giving rise to new wants, a paralyzing slothfulness, an animal passivity and content. This may be observed in whole peoples highly favored by soil and climate, and protected by their situation from external dangers. It may be observed in certain favored classes even in communities which, by long and strenuous effort, have conquered nature and raised themselves high in the scale of civilization. The idle sons of the rich, relieved from the spur of necessity, may undergo the degeneration appropriate to parasitic life. In the midst of a strenuous activity adapted to call out the best intellectual and moral powers of man, they may remain unaffected by it, incapable of effort, unintelligent, slothful, the weak and passive recipients of what is brought to them by the labor of others.
But the struggle with physical nature, sometimes a spur to progress and issuing in triumph, may also issue in defeat. Nature may be too strong for man, or, at least, for man at an early stage of his development. She may thwart his efforts and dwarf his life. It was through no accident that the Athenian state rose and flourished upon the shores of the Aegean; no such efflorescence of civilization could be looked for among the Esquimaux of the frozen North.
25. THE CONQUESTS OF THE MIND.—Physical environment counts for much, but the physical environment of man is the same as that of the creatures below him who seem incapable of progress. It is as an intelligent being that he succeeds in bringing about ever new and more complicated adjustments to his environment.
From the point of view of his animal life in many respects inferior to other creatures—less strong, less swift, less adequately provided with natural means of defense, less protected by nature against cold, heat and the inclemencies of the weather, endowed with instincts less unerring, less prolific, through a long period of infancy helpless and dependent— man nevertheless survives and prospers.
He has conquered the strong, overtaken the swift, called upon his ingenuity to furnish him with means of defence. He has defied cold and heat, and we find him, with appliances of his own devising, successfully combating the rigors of Arctic frosts and the torrid sun of the tropics. Intelligence has supplemented instinct and has guaranteed the survival of the individual and of the race.
It has even protected man against himself, against the very dangers arising out of his immunity from other dangers. A gregarious creature, increasing and multiplying, he would be threatened with starvation did not his intelligent control over nature furnish him with a food-supply which makes it possible for vast numbers of human beings to live and thrive on a territory of limited extent. Moreover, he has compassed those complicated forms of social organization which reveal themselves in cities and states, solving problems of production, transportation and distribution before which undeveloped man would stand helpless.
And from the problem of living at all he has passed to that of living well. He has created new wants and has satisfied them. He has built up for himself a rich and diversified life, many of the activities of which appear to have the remotest of bearings upon the mere struggle for existence, but the exercise of which gives him satisfaction. Thus, the primitive instinct of curiosity, once relatively aimless and insignificant, has developed into the passion for systematic knowledge and the persistent search for truth; the rudimentary aesthetic feeling which is revealed in primitive man, and traces of which are recognizable in creatures far lower in the scale, has blossomed out in those elaborate creations, which, at an enormous expense of labor and ingenuity, have come to enrich the domains of literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture. Civilized man is to a great extent occupied with the production of what he does not need, if need be measured by what his wants are at a lower stage of his development. But these same things he needs imperatively, if we measure his need by his desires when they have been multiplied and their scope indefinitely widened.
26. THE CONQUEST OF NATURE AND THE WELL-BEING OF MAN.—It is evident that the successful exploitation of the resources of material nature is of enormous significance to the life of man. It may bring emancipation; it offers opportunity. One is tempted to affirm, without stopping to reflect, that the development of the arts and sciences, the increase of wealth and of knowledge, must in the nature of things increase human happiness.
One is tempted, further, to maintain that an advance in civilization must imply an advance in moralization. Man has a moral nature which exhibits itself to some degree at every stage of his development. What more natural to conclude than that, with the progressive unfolding of his intelligence, with increase in knowledge, with some relaxation of the struggle for existence which pits man against his fellow-man, and subordinates all other considerations to the inexorable law of self- preservation, his moral nature would have the opportunity to show itself in a fuller measure?
When we compare man at his very lowest with man at his highest such judgments appear to be justified. But man is to be found at all sorts of intermediate stages.
His knowledge may be limited, the development of the arts not far advanced, his control over nature far from complete, and yet he may live in comparative security and with such wants as he has reasonably well satisfied. His competition with his fellows may not be bitter and absorbing. The simple life is not necessarily an unhappy life, if the simplicity which characterizes it be not too extreme. In judging broadly of the significance for human life of the control over nature which is implied in the advance of civilization, one must take into consideration several points of capital importance:
(1) The multiplication of man's wants results, not in happiness, but in unhappiness, unless the satisfaction of those wants can be adequately provided for.
(2) The effort to satisfy the new wants which have been called into being may be accompanied by an enormous expenditure of effort. Where the effort is excessive man becomes again the slave of his environment. His task is set for him, and he fulfills it under the lash of an imperious necessity. The higher standard may become as inexorable a task-master as was the lower.
(3) It does not follow that, because a given community is set free from the bondage of the daily anxiety touching the problem of living at all, and may address itself deliberately to the problem of living well, it will necessarily take up into its ideal of what constitutes living well all those goods upon which developed man is apt to set a value. A civilization may be a grossly material one, even when endowed with no little wealth. With wealth comes the opportunity for the development of the arts which embellish life, but that opportunity may not be embraced. Man may be materially rich and spiritually poor; he may allow some of his faculties to lie dormant, and may lose the enjoyments which would have been his had they been developed. The Athenian citizen two millenniums ago had no such mastery over the forces of nature as we possess today. Nevertheless, he was enabled to live a many-sided life beside which the life of the modern man may appear poor and bare. It is by no means self- evident that the good of man consists in the multitude of the material things which he can compel to his service.