A Manual of Moral Philosophy
Colleges and High Schools.
Andrew P. Peabody, D.D., LL.D.
Plummer Professor of Christian Morals in Harvard University.
New York and Chicago:
A. S. Barnes And Company
Preface. Chapter 1. Action. Chapter II. The Springs Of Action. Section I. The Appetites. Section II. The Desires. Section III. The Affections. Chapter III. The Governing Principles Of Action. Chapter IV. The Right. Chapter V. Means And Sources Of Knowledge As To Right And Wrong. Section I. Conscience. Section II. Sources Of Knowledge. 1. Observation, Experience, And Tradition. Section III. Sources Of Knowledge. 2. Law. Section IV. Sources Of Knowledge. 3. Christianity. Chapter VI. Rights And Obligations. Chapter VII. Motive, Passion, And Habit. Chapter VIII. Virtues, And The Virtues. Chapter IX. Prudence; Or Duties To One's Self. Section I. Self-Preservation. Section II. The Attainment Of Knowledge. Section III. Self-Control. Section IV. Moral Self-Culture. Chapter X. Justice; Or, Duties To One's Fellow-Beings. Section I. Duties To God. Section II. Duties Of The Family. Section III. Veracity. Section IV. Honesty. Section V. Beneficence. Chapter XI. Fortitude; Or Duties With Reference To Unavoidable Evils And Sufferings. Section I. Patience. Section II. Submission. Section III. Courage. Chapter XII. Order; Or Duties As To Objects Under One's Own Control. Section I. Time. Section II. Place. Section III. Measure. Section IV. Manners. Section V. Government. Chapter XIII. Casuistry. Chapter XIV. Ancient History Of Moral Philosophy. Chapter XV. Modern History Of Moral Philosophy. Index. Footnotes
This book has been prepared, particularly, for the use of the Freshman Class in Harvard College. The author has, at the same time, desired to meet the need, felt in our high schools, of a manual of Moral Science fitted for the more advanced classes.
In the preparation of this treatise, the author has been at no pains to avoid saying what others had said before. Yet the book is original, so far as such a book can be or ought to be original. The author has directly copied nothing except Dugald Stewart's classification of the Desires. But as his reading for several years has been principally in the department of ethics, it is highly probable that much of what he supposes to be his own thought may have been derived from other minds. Of course, there is no small part of the contents of a work of this kind, which is the common property of writers, and must in some form reappear in every elementary manual.
Should this work be favorably received, the author hopes to prepare, for higher college-classes, a textbook, embracing a more detailed and thorough discussion of the questions at issue among the different schools—past and present—of ethical science.
An act or action is a voluntary exercise of any power of body or mind. The character of an action, whether good or bad, depends on the intention of the agent. Thus, if I mean to do my neighbor a kindness by any particular act, the action is kind, and therefore good, on my part, even though he derive no benefit from it, or be injured by it. If I mean to do my neighbor an injury, the action is unkind, and therefore bad, though it do him no harm, or though it even result to his benefit. If I mean to perform an action, good or bad, and am prevented from performing it by some unforeseen hindrance, the act is as truly mine as if I had performed it. Words which have any meaning are actions. So are thoughts which we purposely call up, or retain in the mind.
On the other hand, the actions which we are compelled to perform against our wishes, and the thoughts which are forced upon our minds, without our own consent, are not our actions. This is obviously true when our fellow-men forcibly compel us to do or to hear things which we do not wish to do or to hear. It is their action solely, and we have no more part in it than if we were brute beasts, or inanimate objects. It is, then, the intention that gives character to the action.
That we commonly do what we intend to do there can be no doubt. We do not act under immediate compulsion. We are, therefore, free agents, or actors. But are our intentions free? Is it in our power to will otherwise than we will? When we choose to perform an act that is just or kind, is it in our power to choose to perform an act of the opposite character? In other words, is the will free? If it be not so, then what we call our intentions are not ours, but are to be attributed to the superior will which has given direction to our wills. If God has so arranged the order of nature and the course of events as to force my will in certain directions, good or evil, then it is He that does the good or evil which I seem to do. On this supposition God is the only agent or actor in the universe. Evil, if it be wrought, is wrought by Him alone; and if we cannot admit that the Supreme Being does evil, the only alternative is to deny the existence of evil, and to maintain that what we call evil bears an essential part in the production of good. For instance, if the horrible enormities imputed to Nero were utterly bad, the evil that was in them is chargeable, not on Nero, but on God; or if it be maintained that God cannot do evil, then Nero was an instrument for the advancement of human happiness and well-being.
What reasons have we for believing that the human will is free?
1. We have the direct evidence of consciousness. We are distinctly conscious, not only of doing as we choose, but of exercising our free choice among different objects of desire, between immediate and future enjoyment, between good and evil. Now, though consciousness may sometimes deceive us, it is the strongest evidence that we can have; we are so constituted that we cannot refuse our credence to it; and our belief in it lies at the basis of all evidence and of all knowledge.
2. We are clearly conscious of merit or demerit, of self-approval or self-condemnation, in consequence of our actions. If our wills were acted upon by a force beyond our control, we might congratulate or pity ourselves, but we could not praise or blame ourselves, for what we had done.
3. We praise or blame others for their good or evil actions; and in our conduct toward them we show that we believe them to have been not merely fortunate or unfortunate, but praiseworthy or blameworthy. So far as we suppose their wills to have been influenced by circumstances beyond their control, we regard them with diminished approval or censure. On the other hand, we give the highest praise to those who have chosen the good amidst strong temptations to evil, and bestow the severest censure on those who have done evil with virtuous surroundings and influences. Now our judgment of others must of necessity be derived from our own consciousness, and if we regard and treat them as freely willing beings, it can only be because we know that our own wills are free.
These arguments, all derived from consciousness, can be directly met only by denying the validity of consciousness as a ground of belief. The opposing arguments are drawn from sources independent of consciousness.
1. The most obvious objection to the freedom of the human will is derived from the power of motives. It is said, We never act without a motive; we always yield to the strongest motive; and motives are not of our own creation or choice, but are brought to bear upon us independently of our own action. There has been, from the creation until now, an unbroken series of causes and effects, and we can trace every human volition to some anterior cause or causes belonging to this inevitable series, so that, in order for the volition to have been other than it was, some member of this series must have been displaced.
To this it may be answered:—
(a) We are capable of acting without a motive, and we do so act in numberless instances. It was a common saying among the Schoolmen, that an ass, at equal distances from two equal bundles of hay, would starve to death for lack of a motive to choose either. But have we any motive whatever in the many cases in which we choose—sometimes after the vain endeavor to discover a ground of preference—between two equally valuable, beautiful, or appetizing objects, between two equally pleasant routes to the same terminus, or between two equally agreeable modes of passing a leisure day or hour? Yet this choice, made without motive, may be a fruitful cause of motives that shall have a large influence in the future. Thus, on the route which one chooses without any assignable reason, he may encounter persons or events that shall modify his whole plan of life. The instances are by no means few, in which the most decisive results have ensued upon a choice thus made entirely without motive.
(b) Motives of equal strength act differently on different temperaments. The same motive, when it stands alone, with no opposing motive, has not the same effect on different minds. There is in the will of every human being a certain reluctance to action—in some greater, in others less—corresponding to the vis inertiae in inanimate substances; and as the impulse which will move a wooden ball may not suffice to move a leaden ball, so the motive which will start into action a quick and sensitive temperament, may produce no effect on a person of more sluggish nature. Thus, among men utterly destitute of honesty, some are tempted by the most paltry opportunities for theft or fraud; others, not one whit more scrupulous, have their cupidity aroused only by the prospect of some substantial gain. So, too, some sincerely benevolent persons are moved to charitable actions by the slightest needs and sufferings; others, equally kind and generous, have their sympathies excited only on grave occasions and by imperative claims. Motives, then, have not a determinate and calculable strength, but a power which varies with the previous character of the person to whom they are addressed. Moreover, the greater or less susceptibility to motives from without is not a difference produced by education or surroundings; for it may be traced in children from the earliest development of character. Nor can it be hereditary; for it may be found among children of the same parents, and not infrequently between twins nurtured under precisely the same care, instruction, and discipline.
(c) External motives are not the causes of action, but merely its occasions or opportunities. The cause of the action already exists in the character of the agent, before the motive presents itself. A purse of gold that may be stolen without detection is an irresistible motive to a thief, or to a person who, though not previously a thief, is covetous and unprincipled; but the same purse might lie in the way of an honest man every day for a month, and it would not make him a thief. If I recognize the presence of a motive, I must perform some action, whether exterior or internal; but whether that action will be in accordance with the motive, or in the opposite direction, is determined by my previous character and habits of action.
(d) The objection which we are considering assumes, without sufficient reason, that the phenomena of human action are closely analogous to those of motion in the material world. The analogy fails in several particulars. No material object can act on itself and change its own nature, adaptations, or uses, without any external cause; but the human mind can act upon itself without any external cause, as in repentance, serious reflection, religious purposes and aims. Then again, if two or more forces in different directions act upon a material object, its motion is not in the direction of either, or with the momentum derived from either, but in a direction and with a momentum resulting from the composition of these forces; whereas the human will, in the presence of two or more motives, pursues the direction and yields to the force of but one of those motives. We are not, then, authorized to reason about the power of motives from the action of material forces.
(e) Were the arguments against the freedom of the will logically sound and unanswerable, they would be of no avail against the testimony of consciousness. Axioms, intuitive beliefs, and truths of consciousness can be neither proved nor disproved by reasoning; and the reasoning by which they seem to be disproved only evinces that they are beyond the range and reach of argument. Thus it may be maintained with show of reason that motion is impossible; for an object cannot move where it is, and cannot move where it is not,—a dilemma which does not disprove the reality of motion, but simply indicates that the reality of motion, being an intuitive belief, neither needs nor admits logical proof.
2. It is urged against the freedom of the human will that it is inconsistent with God's foreknowledge of future events, and thus represents the Supreme Being as not omniscient, and in that particular finite and imperfect.
To this objection we reply:—
(a) If human freedom and the Divine foreknowledge of human acts are mutually incompatible, we must still retain the freedom of the will as a truth of consciousness; for if we discredit our own consciousness, we cannot trust even the act of the understanding by which we set it aside, which act we know by the testimony of consciousness alone.
(b) If the acts of a freely willing being cannot be foreknown, the ignorance of them does not detract from the perfectness of the Supreme Being. Omnipotence cannot make two and two five. Omnipotence cannot do what is intrinsically impossible. No more can Omniscience know what is intrinsically unknowable.
(c) If God's foreknowledge is entire, it must include his own acts, no less than those of men. If his foreknowledge of men's acts is incompatible with their freedom, then his foreknowledge of his own acts is incompatible with his own freedom. We have, therefore, on the theory of necessity, instead of a Supreme Will on the throne of the universe, mere fate or destiny. This is equivalent to the denial of a personal God.
(d) It cannot be proved that God's foreknowledge and man's free will are incompatible with each other. The most that we can say is that we do not fully see how they are to be reconciled, which is the case with many pairs of undoubted truths that might be named. But while a perfect explanation of the harmony of the Divine foreknowledge and human freedom is beyond the scope of our faculties, we may explain it in part, from our own experience. Human foreknowledge extends very far and with a great degree of certainty, without abridging the freedom of those to whom it relates. When we can foresee outward events, we can often foretell, with little danger of mistake, the courses of conduct to which they will give rise. In view of the extent and accuracy of human foresight, we cannot pronounce it impossible, that He who possesses antecedent knowledge of the native constitution of every human being, and of the shaping circumstances and influences to which each being is subjected, may foreknow men's acts, even though their wills be entirely free.
THE SPRINGS OF ACTION.
There are certain elements of the human constitution, in part natural, in part acquired, which always prompt and urge men to action, without reference to the good or evil there may be in the action, and without reference to its ultimate effects on the actor's well-being. These are the Appetites, the Desires, and the Affections.
The Appetites are cravings of the body, adapted, and undoubtedly designed, to secure the continued life of the individual and the preservation of the species. They are common to man with the lower orders of animals, with this difference, that in man they may be controlled, directed, modified, in part suppressed, while in brutes they are uncontrollable, and always tend to the same modes of gratification.
Appetite is intermittent. When gratified, it ceases for a time, and is renewed for the same person nearly at the same intervals, and under similar circumstances. It is, while it lasts, an uneasy, even a painful sensation, and therefore demands prompt relief, and leads to action with a view to such relief. It is also a characteristic of appetite that its indulgence is attended, not merely by relief, but by positive pleasure.
The appetites are essential to the well-being of men, individually and collectively. Were it not for the pain of hunger and thirst, and the pleasure of gratifying them, both indolence and engrossing industry would draw off the attention of men from their bodily needs; nourishment would be taken irregularly, and with little reference to quality; and one would often become aware of his neglect only too late to arrest its consequences. A similar remark applies to the appetite designed to secure the preservation of the species. But for this, it may be doubted whether men would willingly take upon themselves the cares, labors, responsibilities, and contingent disappointments and sorrows involved in the rearing of children.
In a life conformed to nature, hunger and thirst recur only when the body actually needs the supply which they crave. But stimulating food, by the reaction that follows strong excitement of any portion of the nervous system, may create hunger when there is no need of food, and in like manner not only intoxicating, but highly stimulating liquids, may occasion an excessive, morbid, and injurious thirst.
Appetite is modified by habit. There is hardly any substance so offensive that it may not by use become agreeable, then an object of desire, and, at length, of intense craving.
The craving for repose and that for muscular action, though not classed among the appetites, have all their characteristics, and serve similar ends in the economy of human life. After a certain period of activity, rest is felt as a bodily necessity, as food is, after long fasting; and in like manner, when the wearied muscles have had their due repose, there is an irresistible tendency to their exercise, without reference to any special employment or recreation. It is by the alternation of these tendencies that the active and industrious are saved from the ruinous consequences of overtasked limbs or brain, and that the indolent are urged to the reluctant activity without which health and life itself would be sacrificed.
The appetites, being mere bodily impulses, and being all liable to excess or misdirection, need the control of the will, and of the principles of action by which the will is determined and regulated.
The Desires are distinguished from the Appetites, first, in their not originating from the body; secondly, in their not being necessarily intermittent; and thirdly, in their tendency to increase indefinitely, often through the whole of life, and to gain strength by the attainment of their specific objects. If classified by their objects, they might seem too numerous to be specified; but they may all be embraced under the titles of the Desire for Knowledge, for Society, for Esteem, for Power, and for Superiority. These all may be traced, in a more or less rudimentary form, in the inferior animals. Many of these animals show an active curiosity. Many are gregarious in their native state, and most of the domestic animals delight in the society of their kind; some take manifest pleasure in human society; and the instances are by no means rare, in which animals, by nature mutually hostile, become strongly attached to each other, and render to each other the most friendly services. The dog, the horse, and the cat evidently crave the esteem of human beings, and show tokens of genuine grief when they incur rebuke or discern tokens of disapproval. The dog maintains with watchful jealousy his own authority in his own peculiar domain; and in the chase or on the race-ground the dog and the horse are as emulous of success as their masters.
*1. The Desire of Knowledge.* This in the human being is manifested with the earliest dawn of intelligence. The infant is busy with eye and hand throughout his waking hours; and that the desire of knowledge is innate, and has no reference to the use that is to be made of the things known, is manifest from the rapid growth of knowledge in the first years of life, before the child has any distinct conception of the uses of objects, or any conscious capacity of employing them for his own benefit. It may be doubted whether in any subsequent year of life so much knowledge is acquired as during the first year. The child but a year old has learned the nature of the familiar objects of the house and the street, the faces and names of a large number of relatives, domestics, and acquaintances, the regular succession of seasons and events in daily domestic life, and the meanings of most of the words that are addressed to him or employed concerning him and the objects around him. In more advanced life this desire grows by what it feeds on, and never ceases to be active. It assumes, indeed, different directions, in part determining, and in part determined by, condition, profession, or employment. Even in the most idle and frivolous, it is strong, often intense, though its objects be worthless. Such persons frequently are as sedulous in collecting the paltry gossip of society as the naturalist in acquiring the knowledge of new species of plants or insects, and as ingenious in their inferences from what they see and hear as the philosopher in his inductions from the facts of science.
Not only in infancy, but through life, knowledge is sought evidently for its own sake, and not merely for its uses. But a very small part of what one knows can be made of practical utility as to his own comfort or emolument. Many, indeed, voluntarily sacrifice ease, gain, position, in the pursuit of science or literature. Fame, if it accrues, is not unwelcome; but by the higher order of minds fame is not pursued as an end, and there are many departments of knowledge in which little or no reputation is to be attained. Then, too, it is not the learner, but the teacher, not the profound scholar, merely, but the able expositor, speaker, or writer, who can expect a distinguished name; while there are many who content themselves with acquiring knowledge, without attempting publicity. Nor yet can benevolence account for the love of knowledge. Many, indeed, make their attainments the property of others, and are zealous in diffusing their own scientific views, or in dispensing instruction in their own departments. But there are also many solitary, recluse students; and it may be doubted whether, if a man who is earnestly engaged in any intellectual pursuit were shut out entirely from human society, and left alone with his books or with nature, his diligence would be relaxed, or his ardor abated.
*2. The Desire of Society.* This, also, is manifested so early as to show that it is an original, and not an acquired principle. Little children dread solitude, crave the presence of familiar faces, and evince pleasure in the company of children of their own age. A child, reared in comparative seclusion and silence, however tenderly, suffers often in health, always in mental vigor and elasticity; while in a large family, and in intimate association with companions of his own age, the individual child has the fullest and most rapid development of all his powers. There is, indeed, in the lives of many children, a period when the presence of strangers is unwelcome; but this state of feeling—seldom of long duration—can in most instances be traced to some sudden fright, harsh voice, or imagined neglect or unkindness.
The natural course of human life proves that man is by the necessity of his nature a social being. The young of other animals are at a very early period emancipated and forsaken by their parents, while the human child has many years of dependence, and is hardly prepared to dispense with the shelter and kind offices of his native home, when he is moved to create a new home of his own.
There is no pursuit in life in which a community of interest fails to give added zest and energy. There is no possible ground of association on which societies are not formed, and the trivial, fictitious, or imaginary pretences on which men thus combine, meet, and act in concert, are manifest proofs of a social proclivity so strong as to create reasons for its indulgence where such reasons do not already exist. Even in science and in the most abstruse forms of erudition, men of learning seek mutual countenance and encouragement, and readily suspend their solitary research and study for the opportunity of intercommunication on the subjects and objects of their pursuit. The cases in which society is voluntarily shunned or forsaken are as rare as the cases of congenital disease or deformity; and for every such instance there may generally be assigned some grave, if not sufficient, cause. Religious asceticism has, indeed, induced many persons, especially in the early Christian ages, to lead a solitary life; but the coenobites have always vastly outnumbered the hermits; monasteries (solitary abodes) have become convents (assemblages); and those who are shut out from the rest of the world find comfort in social devotion, in the common refectory, and in those seasons of recreation when the law of silence is suspended. For prisoners solitary confinement has been found deleterious both to body and mind, and this system, instituted with philanthropic purpose, and commended on grounds that seemed intimately connected with the reformation of the guilty, is now generally repudiated as doing violence to human nature. Even for the insane, society, with judicious classification and restriction, is an essential part of curative treatment, and the success of asylums, as compared with the most skilful and humane private treatment, is due in great part to the social element.
It cannot be maintained that the desire of society results from fear, and from the felt need of mutual protection; for it exists in full at the most fearless periods of life, and among those who are the least timid, and is equally manifest in the strong and the weak, in those who can proffer and in those who might crave protection.
*3. The Desire of Esteem.* It is almost superfluous to say that this is a native and indestructible element of the human constitution. Its first manifestations bear even date with the earliest displays of intelligence and affection. To the infant, approval is reward; rebuke, even by look, is punishment. The hope of esteem is the most healthful and effective stimulant in the difficult tasks of childhood and of school-life. Under the discipline of parents both wise and good, it is among the most important and salutary means of moral discipline. It is seldom deficient in young persons. Their chief danger lies in its excess; for when it is too strongly developed, it inclines them to seek at all hazards the approval of their associates for the time being. Hence the chief danger from vicious or unscrupulous associates. The first steps in vice are oftener prompted, no doubt, by the desire for the complacent regard of one's companions than by an antecedent disposition to evil. Indeed, the confession is often made, that these steps were taken with compunction and horror, solely from the fear of ridicule and from the desire to win the approval and favor of older transgressors.
On the other hand, the desire of the esteem of good men is one of the strongest auxiliary motives to virtue; while a yearning for the Divine approval forms an essential part of true piety towards God.
*4. The Desire of Power.* This is manifested in every period of life, and in the exercise of every faculty, bodily, mental, and moral. It is this which gives us pleasure in solitary exercises of physical strength, in climbing mountains, swimming, lifting heavy weights, performing difficult gymnastic feats. It is this, more than deliberate cruelty, that induces boys to torture animals, or to oppress and torment their weaker or more timid companions.
In intellectual pursuits, the love of power leads to many exercises and efforts that have no ulterior result. The mathematician will turn aside from his course of study to master a problem, which involves no new principle, but is merely difficult and perplexing. The reading of books obscurely written, or in languages that task the utmost power of analysis, frequently has no other result, and probably no other object, than the trial of strength. What can be attained only by strenuous mental labor, is for that very reason sought, even if it promise no utility.
In the affairs of practical life, every man desires to make his influence felt. With persons of the highest character, the love of power is manifest in connection with the aim to be useful. Even the most modest men, while they may spurn flattery, are gladdened by knowing that they are acting upon the wills and shaping the characters of those around them.
The love of property belongs in great part under this head. Money is power, preeminently so at the present day. Property confers influence, and puts at one's command resources that may be the means of extended and growing power alike over inanimate nature and the wills of men. Avarice, or the desire of money for its own sake, is not an original desire. Few or none are avaricious in very early life. But money, first sought for the power it confers, from being a means becomes an end, to such a degree that, in order to possess it, the miser will forego the very uses for which he at the outset learned to value it.
*5. The Desire of Superiority.* This is so nearly universal in all conditions of society, and at all periods of life, that it must be regarded as an original element of human nature. Without it there would be little progress. In every department of life, men stimulate one another toward a higher standard of endeavor, attainment, or excellence. What each does, his neighbor would fain outdo; what each becomes, his neighbor would fain surpass. It is only by perversion that this desire tends to evil. It finds its proper satisfaction, not in crushing, depressing, or injuring a rival, but barely in overtaking and excelling him; and the higher his point of attainment, the greater is the complacency experienced in reaching and transcending it. On the race-ground, I do not want to compete with a slow runner, nor will it afford me the slightest satisfaction to win the race by tripping up my competitor; what I want is to match myself with the best runner on a fair field, and to show myself his equal or superior. The object striven for is the individual's own ideal, and those whom he successively passes on his course mark but successive stages on his progress toward that ideal. Thus, in the pursuit of moral excellence, it is only a mean and a bad man who can imagine that he gains anything by detracting from the merit of others; but he who is sincerely contending for a high place among virtuous men, rejoices in the signal examples of goodness of every kind which it is his privilege to emulate, and rejoices most of all that the ideal of perfect excellence—once only actualized in human form—is so pure and lofty that it may be his life-work to approach it without reaching it.
Emulation is not envy, nor need it lead to envy. Among those who strive for superiority there need be no collision. The natural desire is to be, not to seem, superior; to have the consciousness, not the mere outward semblance, of high attainment; and of attainment, not by a conventional, but by an absolute standard; and this aim excludes none,—there may be as many first places as there are deserving candidates for them. Then, too, there is so wide a diversity of ideals, both in degree and in kind, there are so many different ruling aims, and so many different routes by which these aims are pursued, that there need be little danger of mutual interference. Even as regards external rewards, so far as they depend on the bounty of nature, the constitution of society, or the general esteem and good will of men, the success of one does not preclude the equal success of many; but, on the other hand, the merited prosperity and honor of the individual cannot fail to be of benefit to the whole community. It is only in offices contingent on election or appointment that the aspirant incurs a heavy risk of failure; but when we consider how meanly men are often compelled to creep into office and to grovel in it, it can hardly be supposed that a genuine desire of superiority holds a prominent place among the motives of these who are willingly dependent on patronage or on popular suffrage.
These desires, according as one or another has the ascendency, prompt to action, without reference to the good or the evil there may be in the action; and they therefore need the control of reason, and of the principles which reason recognizes in the government of conduct.
*The Affections are distinguished from the Desires*, mainly in these two particulars: first, that the Desires are for impersonal objects, the Affections, for persons; and secondly, that the Desires prompt to actions that have a direct reference to one's self; the Affections, to actions that have a direct reference to others.
The Affections are *benevolent* or *malevolent*.
1. The *benevolent affections* are Love, Reverence, Gratitude, Kindness, Pity, and Sympathy.
*Love* needs no definition, and admits of none. It probably never exists uncaused; though it survives all real or imagined ground for it, and in some cases seems rendered only the more intense by the admitted unworthiness of its object. When it is not the reason for marriage, it can hardly fail to grow from the conjugal relation between one man and one woman, if the mutual duties belonging to that relation be held sacred. It is inconceivable that a mother should not love her child, inevitably cast upon her protection from the first moment of his being; the father who extends a father's care over his children finds in that care a constant source of love; and the children, waking into conscious life under the ministries of parental benignity and kindness, have no emotion so early, and no early emotion so strong, as filial love. It may be doubted whether there is among the members of the same family a natural affection, independent of relations practically recognized in domestic life. It is very certain that at both extremities of the social scale family affection is liable to be impaired, on the one hand, by the delegation of parental duties to hirelings, and, on the other, by the inability to render them constantly and efficiently. We may observe also a difference in family affection, traceable indirectly to the influence of climate. Out-of-door life is unfavorable to the intimate union of families; while domestic love is manifestly the strongest in those countries where the shelter and hearth of the common home are necessary for a large portion of the year.
*Friendship* is but another name for love between persons unconnected by domestic relations, actual or prospective.
*Love for the Supreme Being*, or piety, differs not in kind from the child's love for the parent; but it rightfully transcends all other love, inasmuch as the benefits received from God include and surpass all other benefits. To awake, then, to a consciousness of our actual relation to God, is "to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and all the soul, and all the strength."
*Reverence* is the sentiment inspired by advanced superiority in such traits of mind and character as we regard with complacency in ourselves, or with esteem in our equals. Qualities which we do not esteem we may behold with admiration (that is, wonder), but not with reverence. Our reverence for age is not for advanced years alone, but for the valuable experience which they are supposed to have given, and especially for the maturity of excellence which belongs to the old age of good men, of which their features generally bear the impress, and which, in the absence of knowledge, we are prone to ascribe to a venerable mien and aspect. A foolish or wicked old man commands no reverence by his years.
God, as possessing in infinite fulness all the properties which we revere in man, must ever be the worthy object of supreme reverence.
Gratitude, though it can hardly be disjoined from love, is seldom cherished for the same person in the same degree with love. We love our beneficiaries more than our benefactors. We love those dependent upon us more than those on whom we depend. The mother's love for her child is the strongest of human affections, and undoubtedly exceeds that even of the child for the mother to whom he owes every benefit and blessing under heaven. We may be fervently grateful to persons whom we have never seen; but there cannot be much vividness in our love for them. Love to God, whom we have not seen, needs to be kindled, renewed, and sustained by gratitude for the incessant flow of benefits from Him, and by the promise—contingent on character—of blessings immeasurable and everlasting.
*Kindness* is benevolence for one's kind,—a delight in their happiness and well-being, a readiness to perform friendly offices whenever and however they may be needed. In its lower forms it is designated as good nature; when intense and universal, it is termed philanthropy. It befits the individual man as a member of a race of kindred, and is deemed so essential an attribute of the human character, that he who utterly lacks it is branded as inhuman, while its active exercise in the relief of want and suffering is emphatically termed humanity.
Pity is the emotion occasioned by the sight or knowledge of distress or pain. While without it there can be no genuine kindness, it may exist without kindness. There are persons tenderly sensitive to every form of suffering, who yet feel only for the sufferer, not with him, and who would regard and treat him coldly or harshly, if he were not a sufferer. In such cases, pity would seem to be a selfish feeling; and there can be no doubt that some men relieve distress and poverty, as they would remove weeds from a flower-bed, because they are offensive to the sight.
*Sympathy* is feeling, not for, but with others.(1) It has for its objects successes and joys, no less than sufferings and sorrows; and probably is as real and intense in the case of the former as of the latter, though its necessity is less felt and its offices are less prized in happy than in sad experiences. Kindness alone cannot produce sympathy. In order to feel with another, we must either have passed through similar experiences, or must have an imagination sufficiently vivid to make them distinctly present to our thought. This latter power is by no means necessary to create even the highest degree of kindness or of pity; and among the most active and persevering in works of practical beneficence, there are many who feel intensely for, yet but faintly with, the objects of their charity. On the other hand, sympathy sometimes finds its chief exercise in sensational literature, and there are persons, profoundly moved by fictitious representations of distress, who yet remain inactive and indifferent as regards the real needs and sufferings around them that crave relief.
2. The *malevolent affections* are Anger, Resentment, Envy, Revenge, and Hatred.
*Anger* is the sense of indignation occasioned by real or imagined wrong. When excited by actual wrong-doing, and when contained within reasonable bounds, it is not only innocent, but salutary. It intensifies the virtuous feeling which gives it birth; and its due expression is among the safeguards of society against corruption and evil. But when indulged without sufficient cause, or suffered to become excessive or to outlast its occasion, it is in itself evil, and it may lead to any and every form of social injustice, and of outrage against the rights of man and the law of God.
*Resentment* is the feeling excited by injury done to ourselves. This also is innocent and natural, when its occasion is sufficient, and its limits reasonable. It may prevent the repetition of injury, and the spontaneous tendency to it, which is almost universal, is an efficient defence against insult, indignity, and encroachment on the rights of individuals. But, indulged or prolonged beyond the necessity of self-defence, it is prone to reverse the parties, and to make the injured person himself the wrong-doer.
Both anger and resentment are *painful emotions*, and on this account are self-limited in a well-ordered mind. He who makes happiness his aim will, if wise, give these disturbing forces the least possible hold upon him, whether in intensity or in duration.
*Envy* has been defined as the excess of emulation. It seems rather to be a deficiency in the genuine principle of emulation. The instinctive desire of superiority leads us, as we have seen, to aim at absolutely high attainments, and to measure ourselves less by what others are, than by our own ideal. It is only those of lower aims, who seek to supplant others on their career. Envy is the attempt, not to rise or excel, but to stand comparatively high by subverting those who hold or seek a higher position. No just man voted for the banishment of Aristides because he was always called the Just; but his ostracism was the decree of those who knew that they could obtain no reputation for justice till he were put out of their way.
*Revenge* is the desire to inflict evil for evil. In principle it is always wrong; for the evil-doer, though he may merit transient anger and resentment, is not therefore placed beyond our benevolence, but is rather commended to our charity as one who may be reformed and may become worthy of our esteem. In practice, revenge can scarce ever be just. Our self-love so exaggerates our estimate of the wrong we receive, that we could hardly fail to retaliate by greater wrong, and thus to provoke a renewal of the injury. There are, no doubt, cases in which self-defence may authorize the immediate chastisement or disabling of the wrong-doer, and in an unsettled state of society, where there is no legal protection, it may be the right of individuals to punish depredation or personal outrage; but acts of this kind are to be justified on the plea of necessity, not of revenge.
*Hatred* is the result of either of the malevolent affections above named, when carried to excess, or suffered to become permanent. It precludes the exercise of all the benevolent affections. No man can rightfully be the object of hatred; for there is no man who has not within him some element or possibility of good, none who has not rights that should be respected, none who is not entitled to pity for his sufferings, and, still more, for his sins.
* * * * *
The affections, benevolent and malevolent, are common to man with lower animals. Love and hatred are manifested by all of them whose habits are open to our inspection; anger, by not a few; gratitude, kindness, pity, sympathy, resentment, and revenge, by the more intelligent; envy, by those most completely domesticated; reverence, perhaps, by the dog towards his master.
The affections all prompt to action, and do not discriminate the qualities of actions. Hence they need the control and guidance of reason, and can safely be indulged only in accordance with the principles which reason recognizes as supreme in the conduct of life.
THE GOVERNING PRINCIPLES OF ACTION.
The appetites, desires, and affections constitute the *impelling force* in all action. Were we not possessed of them, we should not act. There is no act of any kind, good or bad, noble or base, mental or bodily, of which one or another of them is not the proximate cause. They are also imperative in their demands. They crave immediate action,—the appetites, in procuring or using the means of bodily gratification; the desires, in the increase of their objects; the affections, in seeking or bestowing their appropriate tokens or expressions, whether good or evil. Were there no check, the specific appetite, desire, or affection to which circumstances gave the ascendency for the time being, would act in its appropriate direction, until counteracted by another, brought into supremacy by a new series of circumstances. This is the case with brutes, so far as we can observe their modes of action. Here, in man, reason intervenes, and takes cognizance of the tendencies and the qualities of actions.
*Reason* considers actions under two points of view,—interest and obligation,—expediency and right. The questions which we inwardly ask concerning actions all resolve themselves into one of these,—Is the act useful or desirable for me? or, Is it my right or my duty? He who is wont to ask the former of these questions is called a prudent man; he who habitually asks the latter is termed a virtuous or good man. He who asks neither of them yields himself, after the manner of the brutes, to the promptings of appetite, desire, and affection, and thus far omits to exercise the reason which distinguishes him from the brutes.
There can be no doubt that *expediency and right coincide*. Under the government of Supreme Benevolence, it is impossible that what ought to be done should not conduce to the welfare of him who does it. But its beneficent results may be too remote for him to trace them, nay, may belong to a life beyond death, to which human cognizance does not reach; while what ought not to be done may promise substantial benefit so far as man's foresight extends. Then, too, it is at least supposable that there may be cases, in which, were they solitary cases, expediency might diverge from right, yet in which, because they belong to a class, it is for the interest of society and of every individual member of society that general laws should be obeyed. It is obvious also, that there are many cases, in which the calculation of expediency involves details too numerous and too complicated to be fully understood by a mind of ordinary discernment, while the same mind can clearly perceive what course of conduct is in accordance with the strict rule of right. Still farther, in a question of conduct in which appetite, desire, or affection is concerned, we cannot take as calm and dispassionate a view of our true interest, as we should of the interest of another person in like case. The impelling force may be so strong, that for the time being we sincerely regard it as expedient—though we know that it is not right—to yield to it.
For these reasons there is an *apparent conflict between the useful and the right*. Though a perfectly wise and dispassionate man might give precisely the same answer in every instance to the question of interest and that of duty, men, limited and influenced as they are, can hardly fail in many instances to answer these questions differently. The man who makes his own imagined good his ruling aim does many things which he would not defend on the ground of right; the man who determines always to do right sometimes performs acts of reputed and conscious self-denial and self-sacrifice.
Nor yet can more *general* considerations of *expediency*, reference to the good of others, to the greatest good of the greatest number, serve as a guide to the right or a test of the right. We have less foresight as regards others than as regards ourselves; the details involved in the true interest of any community, society, or number of persons, are necessarily more numerous and complicated than those involved in our own well-being; and, if not appetite or desire, the benevolent or malevolent affections are fully as apt to warp our judgment and to misdirect our conduct in the case of others as in our own case.
We perceive then that *expediency*, whether with reference to ourselves or to others, *is not a trustworthy rule of conduct*. Yet while it cannot hold the first place, it occupies an important place; for there are many cases in which the question before us is not what we ought to do, but what it is best for us to do. Thus, if there be several acts, all equally right, only one of which can be performed, we are evidently entitled to perform the act which will be most pleasing or useful to ourselves. If there be an end which it is our right or duty to attain, and there be several equally innocent modes of attaining it, the question for us is, by which of these modes we may find the least difficulty or gain the highest enjoyment or advantage. If there be several duties incumbent upon us at the same time and place, all of which have equal intrinsic claims, yet one of which must necessarily take precedence of the rest, the question which shall have precedence is a question of expediency, that by which we may do the most good being the foremost duty.
*Expediency is not a characteristic of actions.* An act is not in itself expedient or inexpedient, but is made one or the other by varying circumstances alone; while there are acts in themselves good which no possible circumstances could make bad, and there are acts in themselves bad which no possible circumstances could make good. If, therefore, there be a science which has for its province the intrinsic qualities of actions, questions of expediency have no place in such a science.
*Moral Philosophy, or Ethics* (synonymous terms), is the science which treats of human actions. The term morals is often applied to external actions; but always with reference to the intentions from which they proceed. We can conceive of the treatment of actions under various aspects, as wise or unwise, agreeable or disagreeable, spontaneous or deliberate; but by the common consent of mankind, at least of the civilized and enlightened portion of mankind, the distinction of actions as right or wrong is regarded as of an importance so far transcending all other distinctions, as to render them of comparatively little moment. Therefore Moral Philosophy confines itself to this single distinction, and takes cognizance of others, only as they modify this, or are modified by it. The questions which Moral Philosophy asks and answers are these:—What constitutes the right? How is it to be ascertained? Wherein lies the obligation to the right? What are the motives to right action? What specific actions, or classes of actions are right, and why? What specific actions, or classes of actions are wrong, and why?
Every object, by virtue of its existence, has its *appropriate place, purpose, uses, and relations*. At every moment, each specific object is either in or out of its place, fulfilling or not fulfilling its purpose, subservient to or alienated from its uses, in accordance or out of harmony with its relations, and therefore in a state of fitness or unfitness as regards other objects. Every object is at every moment under the control of the intelligent will of the Supreme Being, or of some finite being, and is by that will maintained either in or out of its place, purpose, uses, or relations, and thus in a state of fitness or unfitness with regard to other objects. Every intelligent being, by virtue of his existence, bears certain definite relations to outward objects, to his fellow-beings, and to his Creator. At every moment, each intelligent being is either faithful or unfaithful to these relations, and thus in a state of fitness or unfitness as regards outward objects and other beings. Thus fitness or unfitness may be affirmed, at every moment, of every object in existence, of the volition by which each object is controlled, and of every intelligent being, with regard to the exercise of his will toward or upon outward objects or his fellow-beings. Fitness and unfitness are the ultimate ideas that are involved in the terms right and wrong. These last are metaphorical terms,—right (Latin, rectus), straight, upright, according to rule, and therefore fit; wrong, wrung, distorted, deflected, twisted out of place, contrary to rule, and therefore unfit. We are so constituted that we cannot help regarding fitness with complacency and esteem; unfitness, with disesteem and disapproval, even though we ourselves create it or impersonate it.
*Fitness* is the only standard by which we regard our own actions or the actions of others as good or evil,—by which we justify or condemn ourselves or others. Duty has fitness for its only aim and end. To whatever object comes under our control, its fit place, purpose, uses, and relations are due; and our perception of what is thus due constitutes our duty, and awakens in us a sense of obligation. To ourselves, and to other beings and objects, our fidelity to our relations has in it an intrinsic fitness; that fitness is due to them and to ourselves; and our perception of what is thus due constitutes our duty, and awakens in us a sense of obligation.
*Right and wrong are not contingent on the knowledge of the moral agent.* Unfitness, misuse, abuse, is none the less intrinsically wrong, because it is the result of ignorance. It is out of harmony with the fitness of things. It deprives an object of its due use. It perverts to pernicious results what is salutary in its purpose. It lessens for the agent his aggregate of good and of happiness, and increases for him his aggregate of evil and of misery. In this sense—far more significant than that of arbitrary infliction—the well-known maxim of jurisprudence, "Ignorance of the law excuses no one,"(2) is a fundamental law of nature.
There is, however, an important distinction between *absolute and relative right*. In action, the absolute right is conduct in entire conformity with beings and objects as they are; the relative right is conduct in accordance with beings and objects as, with the best means of knowledge within our reach, we believe them to be. The Omniscient Being alone can have perfect knowledge of all beings and things as they are. This knowledge is possessed by men in different degrees, corresponding to their respective measures of intelligence, sagacity, culture, and personal or traditional experience. In the ruder conditions of society, acts that seem to us atrociously wrong, often proceed from honest and inevitable misapprehension, are right in their intention, and are therefore proper objects of moral approbation. In an advanced condition of intelligence, and especially under high religious culture, though the realm of things unknown far exceeds that of things known, there is a sufficiently clear understanding of the objects and relations of ordinary life to secure men against sins of ignorance, and to leave in their wrong-doing no semblance or vestige of right.
The distinction between absolute and relative right enables us to *reconcile two statements that may have seemed inconsistent* with each other, namely, that "the character of an action, whether good or bad, depends on the intention of the agent," and "that unfitness, misuse, abuse, is none the less wrong because the result of ignorance." Both these propositions are true. The same act may be in intent right and good, and yet, through defect of knowledge, wrong and evil; and it may, in virtue of its good intent, be attended and followed by beneficent results, while at the same time the evil that there is in it may be attended or followed by injurious consequences. We may best illustrate this double character of actions by a case so simple that we can see through it at a single glance. I will suppose that I carry to a sick person a potion which I believe to be an efficient remedy, but which, by a mistake for which I am not accountable, proves to be a deadly poison. My act, by the standard of absolute right, is an unfitting and therefore a wrong act, and it has its inevitable result in killing the patient. But because my intention was right, I have not placed myself in any wrong relation to God or man. Nay, if I procured what I supposed to be a healing potion with care, cost, and trouble, and for one whose suffering and need were his only claim upon me, I have by my labor of love brought myself into an even more intimate relation, filial and fraternal, with God and man, the result of which must be my enhanced usefulness and happiness. If on the other hand I had meant to poison the man, but had by mistake given him a healing potion, my act would have been absolutely right, because conformed to the fitness of things, but relatively wrong, because in its intention and purpose opposed to the fitness of things; and as in itself fitting, it would have done the sick man good, while, as in its purpose unfitting, it would have thrown me out of the relations in which I ought to stand both with God and man.
*Mistakes as to specific acts of duty* bear the closest possible analogy to the case of the poison given for medicine. The savage, who sincerely means to express reverence, kindness, loyalty, fidelity, may perform, in the expression of those sentiments, acts that are utterly unfitting, and therefore utterly wrong; and if so, each of these acts produces its due consequences, it may be, baleful and lamentable. Yet because he did the best he knew in the expression of these sentiments, he has not sunk, but risen in his character as a moral being,—has become better and more capable of good.
*Ignorance of the right*, however, *is innocent, only when inevitable*. At the moment of action, indeed, what seems to me fitting is relatively right, and were I to do otherwise, even though my act were absolutely right, it would be relatively wrong. But if I have had and neglected the means of knowing the right, I have violated the fitnesses of my own nature by not employing my cognitive powers on subjects of vital importance to my well-being. In this case, though what are called the sins of ignorance may be mistakes and not sins, the ignorance itself has all the characteristics that attach themselves to the term sin, and must be attended with proportionally *harmful consequences to the offender*.
MEANS AND SOURCES OF KNOWLEDGE AS TO RIGHT AND WRONG.
*Conscience is a means*, not a source, *of knowledge*. It is analogous to sight and hearing. It is the power of perceiving fitness and unfitness. Yet more, it is consciousness,—a sense of our own personal relation to the fitting and the unfitting, of our power of actualizing them in intention, will, and conduct. It is in this last particular that man differs from the lower animals. They have an instinctive perception of fitness, and an instinctive impulse to acts befitting their nature. But no brute says to himself, "I am acting in accordance with the fitness of things;" while man virtually says to himself, in every act, "I am doing what it is fit for me to do," or, "I am doing what it is unfitting for me to do."
*Conscience is a judicial faculty.* Its decisions are based upon such knowledge as the individual has, whether real or imagined, and from whatever source derived. It judges according to such law and evidence as are placed before it. Its verdict is always relatively right, a genuine verdict (verum dictum), though, by the absolute standard of right, it may be wrong, through defect of knowledge,—precisely as in a court of law an infallibly wise and incorruptibly just judge may pronounce an utterly erroneous or unjust decision, if he have before him a false statement of facts, or if the law which he is compelled to administer be unrighteous.
We may *illustrate the function of conscience* by reference to a question now agitated in our community,—the question as to the moral fitness of the moderate use of fermented liquors. In civilized society, intoxication is universally known to be opposed to the fitnesses of body and mind, an abuse of alcoholic liquors, and an abuse of the drinker's own personality; and it is therefore condemned by all consciences, by none more heartily than by those of its victims. But there still remains open the question whether entire abstinence from fermented liquors be a duty, and this is a question of fact. Says one party, "Alcohol, in every form, and in the least quantity, is a virulent poison, and therefore unfit for body and mind." Says the other party, "Wine, moderately used, is healthful, salutary, restorative, and therefore fitted to body and mind." Change the opinion of the latter party, their consciences would at once take the other side; and if they retained in precept and practice their present position, they would retain it self-condemned. Change the opinion of the former party, their consciences would assume the ground which they now assail. Demonstrate to the whole community—as it is to be hoped physiology will do at no distant day—the precise truth in this matter, there would remain no difference of conscientious judgment, whatever difference of practice might still continue.
*Conscience*, like all the perceptive faculties, *prompts to action in accordance with its perceptions*. In this respect it differs not in the least from sight, hearing, taste. Our natural proclivity is to direct our movements with reference to the objects within the field of our vision, to govern our conduct by what we hear, to take into our mouths only substances that are pleasing to the taste. Yet fright, temerity, or courage may impel us to incur dangers which we clearly see; opiniativeness or obstinacy may make us inwardly deaf to counsels or warnings which we hear; and motives of health may induce us to swallow the most nauseous drugs. In like manner, our inevitable tendency is to govern our conduct by the fitness of things when clearly perceived; but intense and unrestrained appetite, desire, or affection may lead us to violate that fitness, though distinctly seen and acknowledged.
*Men act in opposition to conscience only under immediate and strong temptation.* The great majority of the acts of bad men are conscientious, but not therefore meritorious; for merit consists not in doing right when there is no temptation to evil, but in resisting temptation. But, as has been said, it is as natural, when there is no inducement to the contrary, to act in accordance with the fitness of things, as it is to act in accordance with what we see and hear. It is the tendency so to act, that alone renders human society possible, in the absence of high moral principle. In order to live, a man must so act with reference to outward nature; still more must he so act, in order to possess human fellowship, physical comfort, transient enjoyment, of however low a type; and the most depraved wretch that walks the earth purchases his continued being and whatever pleasure he derives from it by a thousand acts in accordance with the fitness of things to one in which he violates that fitness.
*Conscience*, like all the perceptive faculties, *is educated by use*. The watchmaker's or the botanist's eye acquires an almost microscopic keenness of vision. The blind man's hearing is so trained as to supply, in great part, the lack of sight. The epicure's taste can discriminate flavors whose differences are imperceptible to an ordinary palate. In like manner, the conscience that is constantly and carefully exercised in judging of the fit and the unfitting, the right and the wrong, becomes prompt, keen, searching, sensitive, comprehensive, microscopic. On the other hand, conscience, like the senses, if seldom called into exercise, becomes sluggish, inert, incapable of minute discrimination, or of vigilance over the ordinary conduct of life. Yet it is never extinct, and is never perverted. When roused to action, even in the most obdurate, it resumes its judicial severity, and records its verdict in remorseful agony.
Conscience is commonly said to be educated by *the increase of knowledge* as to the relations of beings and objects, as to the moral laws of the universe, and as to religious verities. This, however, is not true. Knowledge does not necessarily quicken the activity of conscience, or enhance its discriminating power. Conscience often is intense and vivid in the most ignorant, inactive and torpid in persons whose cognitive powers have had the most generous culture. Knowledge, indeed, brings the decisions of conscience into closer and more constant conformity with the absolute right, but it does not render its decisions more certainly in accordance with the relative right, that is, with what the individual, from his point of view, ought to will and do. It has the same effect upon conscience that accurate testimony has upon the clear-minded and uncorrupt judge, whose mind is not made thereby the more active or discriminating, nor his decision brought into closer accordance with the facts as they are presented to him. Knowledge is indeed an indispensable auxiliary to conscience; but this cannot be affirmed exclusively of any specific department of knowledge. It is true of all knowledge; for there is no fact or law in the universe that may not in some contingency become the subject-matter or the occasion for the action of conscience. Nothing could seem more remote from the ordinary field of conscience than the theory of planetary motion; yet it was this that gave Galileo the one grand opportunity of his life for testing the supremacy of conscience,—it may be, the sole occasion on which his conscience uttered itself strongly against his seeming interest, and one on which obedience to conscience would have averted the only cloud that ever rested on his fame.
Sources Of Knowledge. 1. Observation, Experience, And Tradition.
Except so far as there may have been direct communications from the Supreme Being, all *man's knowledge* of persons, objects, and relations *is derived*, in the last resort, *from observation*. Experience is merely remembered self-observation. Tradition, oral and written, is accumulated and condensed observation; and by means of this each new generation can avail itself of the experience of preceding generations, can thus find time to explore fresh departments of knowledge, and so transmit its own traditions to the generations that shall follow. Now what we observe in objects is chiefly their properties, or, what is the same thing, their fitnesses; for a property is that which fits an object for a specific place or use. What we observe in persons is their relations to other beings and objects, with the fitnesses that belong to those relations. What we experience all resolves itself into the fitness or unfitness of persons and objects to one *another* or to ourselves. What is transmitted in history and in science is the record of fitnesses or unfitnesses that have been ascertained by observation, or tested by experience. The progress of knowledge is simply an enlarged acquaintance with the fitnesses of persons and things. He knows the most, who most fully comprehends the relations in which the beings and objects in the universe stand, have stood, and ought to stand toward one another. Moreover, as when we see a fitness within our sphere of action, we perceive intuitively that it is right to respect it, wrong to violate it, our knowledge of right and wrong is co-extensive with our knowledge of persons and things. The more enlightened and cultivated a nation is, then, the more does it know as to right and wrong, whatever may be its standard of practical morality.
For instance, in the most savage condition, men know, with reference to certain articles of *food and drink*, that they are adapted to relieve the cravings of hunger and thirst, and they know nothing more about them. They are not acquainted with the laws of health, whether of body or of mind. They therefore eat and drink whatever comes to hand, without imagining the possibility of wrong-doing in this matter. But, with the progress of civilization, they learn that various kinds of food and drink impair the health, cloud the brain, enfeeble the working power, and therefore are unfit for human use; and no sooner is this known, than the distinction of right and wrong begins to be recognized, as to what men eat and drink. The more thorough is the knowledge of the human body and of the action of various substances on its organs and tissues, the more minute and discriminating will be the perception of fitness or unfitness as to the objects that tempt the appetites, and the keener will be the sense of right or wrong in their use.
For another illustration of the same principle, we may take *the relation between parents and children*. In the ruder stages of society, and especially among a nomadic or migratory people, there is not a sufficient knowledge of the resources of nature or the possibilities of art, to render even healthy and vigorous life more than tolerable; while for the infirm and feeble, life is but a protracted burden and weariness. At the same time, there is no apprehension of the intellectual and moral worth of human life, still less, of the value even of its most painful experiences as a discipline of everlasting benefit. In fine, life is little more than a mere struggle for existence. What wonder then, that in some tribes filial piety has been wont to relieve superannuated parents from an existence devoid equally of joy and of hope; and that in others parental love may have even dictated the exposure—with a view to their perishing—of feeble, sickly, and deformed children, incapable of being nurtured into self-sustaining and self-depending life? But increased conversance with nature and art constantly reveals new capacities of comfort and happiness in life, and that, not for the strong alone, but for the feeble, the suffering, the helpless, so that there are none to whom humanity knows not how to render continued life desirable. At the same time, a higher culture has made it manifest that the frailest body may be the seat of the loftiest mental activity, moral excellence, and spiritual aspiration, and that in such a body there is often only a surer and more finished education for a higher state of being. Filial piety and parental love, therefore, do all in their power to prolong the flickering existence of the age-worn and decrepit, and to cherish with tender care the life which seems born but to die. There is, then, to the limited view of the savage, an apparent fitness in practices which in their first aspect seem crimes against nature; while increased knowledge develops a real and essential fitness, in all the refinements and endearments of the most persevering and skilful love.
These examples, which might be multiplied indefinitely, show *the dependence of conscience on knowledge*, not for relatively right decisions, but for verdicts in accordance with the absolute right. There is no subject that can be presented for the action of conscience, on which, upon precisely the same principles, divergent and often opposite courses of conduct may not be dictated by more or less accurate knowledge of the subject and its relations.
It will be seen, also, that *with the growth of knowledge, conscience has a constantly wider scope of action*. The number of indifferent acts is thus diminished; the number of positively right or wrong acts, increased. An indifferent act is one for the performance of which, rather than its opposite, no reason, involving a question of right or wrong, can be given. Thus, if the performance or the omission of a specific act be equally fitted to the time, place, circumstances, and persons concerned, the act is an indifferent one; or, if two or more ways of accomplishing a desired end be equally fitted to time, place, circumstances, and persons, the choice between these ways is, morally speaking, a matter of indifference. But with a knowledge both more extensive and more minute of the nature, relations, and fitnesses of beings and objects, we find an increasing number of instances in which acts that seemed indifferent have a clearly perceptible fitness or unfitness, and thus acquire a distinct moral character as right or wrong.
Sources Of Knowledge. 2. Law.
*Law is the result of the collective experience*, in part, of particular communities, in part, of the human race as a whole. It encourages, protects, or at least permits whatever acts or modes of conduct have been found or believed to be fitting, in accordance with the nature of things and the well-being of men, and therefore right; it forbids and punishes such acts or modes of conduct as have been found or believed to be unfitting, opposed to nature and to human well-being, and therefore wrong. It is far from perfect; it is below the standard of the most advanced minds; but it represents the average knowledge or belief of the community to which it belongs. *The laws* of any particular state cannot rise far above this average; for laws unsustained by general opinion could not be executed, and if existing in the statute-book, they would not have the nature and force of law, and would remain on record simply because they had lapsed out of notice. Nor can they fall far below this average; for no government can sustain itself while its legislation fails to meet the demands of the people.
While *law* thus expresses the average knowledge of belief, it *tends to perpetuate its own moral standard*. The notions of right which it embodies form a part of the general education. The specific crimes, vices, and wrongs which the law marks out for punishment are regarded by young persons, from their earliest years, as worthy of the most emphatic censure and condemnation; while those which the law leaves unpunished are looked upon as comparatively slight and venial. Not only so, the degree of detestation in which a community learns to look on specific crimes and offences is not in proportion to their actual heinousness, but to the stress of overt ignominy attached to them by legal penalties. Instances of this effect of law on opinion will be readily called to mind. Thus a common thief loses, and can hardly regain his position in society; while the man who by dishonest bankruptcy commits a hundred thefts in one, can hold his place unchallenged, even in the Christian church, while it is known to every one that he is living—it may be in luxury—on the money he has stolen. The obvious reason is that from time immemorial simple theft has been punished with due, when not with undue, severity, while the comparatively recent crime of fraudulent bankruptcy has as yet been brought very imperfectly within the grasp of penal law. Again, no man of clear moral discernment can doubt that he who consciously and willingly imbrutes himself by intoxication is more blameworthy than he who sells alcoholic liquors without knowing whether they are to be used internally or externally, moderately or immoderately, for medicine or for luxury. Yet because the latter makes himself liable to fine and imprisonment, while the former—unless he belong to the unprivileged classes—has legal protection, instead of the disgraceful punishment he deserves, there is a popular prejudice against the vender of strong drink, and a strange tenderness toward the intemperate consumer. Yet another instance. There are crimes worse than murder. There are modes of moral corruption and ruin, whose victims it were mercy to kill. But while the murderer, if he escape the gallows, is an outcast and an object of universal abhorrence, no social ban rests upon him whose crime has been the death of innocence and purity, yet, if reached at all by law, can be compounded by the payment of money.
But though law is in many respects an imperfect moral teacher, and its deficiencies are to be regretted, its *educational power* is strongly felt for good, especially in communities where the administration of justice is strict and impartial. It is of no little worth that a child grows up with some fixed beliefs as to the turpitude of certain forms of evil, especially as the positive enactments of the penal law almost always coincide with the wisest judgments of the best men in the community. Moreover, law is progressive in every civilized community, and in proportion as it approaches the standard of absolute right, it tends to bring the moral beliefs of the people into closer conformity with the same standard. It is, then, a partial and narrow view of law to regard it only or chiefly as the instrument of society for the detection and punishment, or even for the direct prevention of crime. Its far more important function is so to train the greater part of each rising generation, that certain forms and modes of evil-doing shall never enter into their plans or purposes.
The *civil*, no less than the criminal *law is a source of knowledge as to the right*. The law does not create, but merely defines the rights appertaining to persons and property. The laws of different nations are, indeed, widely different; but there may be that in their respective histories which makes a difference in the actual rights of citizens, or their civil codes may present different stages of approach toward the right. Thus the laws as to the conveyance and inheritance of property are in some respects unlike in France, England, and the United States, and vary considerably in the several States of our Union; but there generally exist historical reasons for this variation, and it would be found that the ends of justice are best served, and the reasonable expectations of the people best met in each community, by its own methods of procedure. By the law of the land, then, we may learn civil rights and obligations, which we have not the means of ascertaining by our own independent research.
It remains for us to speak of the *factitious rights and wrongs*, supposed to be created by law. Of these there are many. Thus one mode of transacting a sale or transfer is in itself as good as another; and it might be plausibly maintained that, if the business be fairly and honorably conducted, it matters not whether the legally prescribed forms—sometimes burdensome and costly—be complied with or omitted. The law, it may be said, here creates an obligation for which there is no ground in nature or the fitness of things. This we deny. It is intrinsically fitting that all transactions which are liable to dispute or question should be performed in ways in which they can be attested; and this cannot be effected except by the establishment of uniform methods. He who departs from them performs not only an illegal, but an immoral act; and the legal provisions of the kind under discussion have an educational value in enlarging the knowledge of the individual as to the conditions and means of security, order, and good understanding in human society.
Similar considerations apply to the *crimes created by law*. Smuggling may serve as an instance. Undoubtedly there are smugglers who would not steal; and their apology is that they are but exercising the rights of ownership upon their own property. But the public must have property, else its community is dissolved; government must be able to avail itself of that property, else its functions are suspended. Men need to be taught that the rights of the state are inseparable from those of individuals, and no less sacred, and the laws that protect the revenue are among the most efficient means of teaching this lesson. Their only defect is that they attach less ignominy to frauds upon the revenue than to other modes of theft, and thus fail to declare the whole truth, that there is no moral difference between him who robs the public and him who robs any one of its individual members.
Sources Of Knowledge. 3. Christianity.
*Religion*, in its relation to ethics, may be regarded both as *a source of knowledge*, and as supplying motives for the performance of duty. We are now concerned with it in the former aspect; and it will be sufficient for our present purpose to ascertain how much *Christianity* adds to our knowledge of the fitnesses that underlie all questions of right and duty. We by no means undervalue the beneficent ministry of natural religion in the department of ethics; but the most sceptical admit that Christianity includes all of natural religion, while its disciples claim that it not only teaches natural religion with a certainty, precision, and authority which else were wanting, but imparts a larger and profounder knowledge of God and the universe than is within the scope of man's unaided reason.
*Christianity covers the entire field of human duty*, and reveals many fitnesses, recognized when seen, but discovered by few or none independently of the teachings and example of its Founder; while it gives the emphasis and sanction of a Divine revelation to many other fitnesses, easily discoverable, but liable to be overlooked and neglected.
In defining *the relations of the individual human soul to God*, Christianity opens to our view a department of duty paramount to all others in importance and interest. His fatherly love and care, his moral government and discipline, his retributive providence, define with unmistakable distinctness certain corresponding modes, in part, of outward action, and in still greater part, of action in that inward realm of thought whence the outward life receives its direction and impulse.
*The brotherhood of the whole human race*, also, reveals obligations which would exist on no other ground; and for the clear and self-evidencing statement of this truth we are indebted solely to Christianity. The visible differences of race, color, culture, religion, and customs, are in themselves dissociating influences. Universal charity is impossible while these differences occupy the foreground. Slavery was a natural and congenial institution under Pagan auspices; nor have we in all ancient extra-Christian literature, unless it be in Seneca (in whom such sentiments may have had indirectly(3) a Christian origin), a single expression of a fellowship broad enough to embrace all diversities of condition, much less, of race. But the Christian, so far as he consents to receive the obvious and undoubted import of Christ's mission and teachings, must regard all men as, in nature, in the paternal care of the Divine Providence, in religious privileges, rights, and capacities, on an equal footing. With this view, he cannot but perceive the fitness, and therefore the obligation, of many forms of social duty, of enlarged beneficence, of unlimited philanthropy, which on any restricted theory of human brotherhood would be neither fitting nor reasonable.
*The immortality of the soul*, in the next place, casts a light at once broad and penetrating upon and into every department of duty; for it is obvious, without detailed statement, that the fitnesses, needs, and obligations of a terrestrial being of brief duration, and those of a being in the nursery and first stage of an endless existence, are very wide apart,—that the latter may find it fitting, and therefore may deem it right, to do, seek, shun, omit, endure, resign, many things which to the former are very properly matters of indifference. Immortality was, in a certain sense, believed before the advent of Christ, but not with sufficient definiteness and assurance to occupy a prominent place in any ethical system, or to furnish the point of view from which all things in the earthly life were to be regarded. Indeed, some of the most virtuous of the ancients, among others Epictetus, than whom there was no better man, expressly denied the life after death, and, of course, could have had no conception of the aspects of human and earthly affairs as seen in the light of eternity.
Christianity makes yet another contribution to ethical knowledge in *the person and character of its Founder*, exhibiting in him the very fitnesses it prescribes, showing us, as it could not in mere precept, the proportions and harmonies of the virtues, and manifesting the unapproached beauty and majesty of the gentler virtues,(4) which in pre-Christian ages were sometimes made secondary, sometimes repudiated with contempt and derision. We cannot overestimate the importance of this teaching by example. The instances are very numerous, in which the fitness of a specific mode of conduct can be tested only by experiment; and Jesus Christ tried successfully several experiments in morals that had not been tried before within the memory of man, and evinced, in his own person and by the success of his religion, the superior worth and efficacy of qualities which had not previously borne the name of virtues.