MORAL SCIENCE: A COMPENDIUM OF ETHICS
ALEXANDER BAIN, M.A.,
Author of "Mental Science: A Compendium of Psychology;" "The Senses and the Intellect;" "The Emotions and the Will;" "A Manual ooof Rhetoric;" Professor of Logic in the University of Aberdeen, etc., etc., etc.
The present Dissertation falls under two divisions.
The first division, entitled The Theory of Ethics, gives an account of the questions or points brought into discussion, and handles at length the two of greatest prominence, the Ethical Standard, and the Moral Faculty.
The second division—on The Ethical Systems—is a full detail of all the systems, ancient and modern, by conjoined Abstract and Summary. With few exceptions, an abstract is made of each author's exposition of his own theory, the fulness being measured by relative importance; while, for better comparing and remembering the several theories, they are summarized at the end, on a uniform plan.
The connection of Ethics with Psychology is necessarily intimate; the leading ethical controversies involve a reference to mind, and can be settled only by a more thorough understanding of mental processes.
Although the present volume is properly a continuation of the Manual of Psychology and the History of Philosophy, recently published, and contains occasional references to that treatise, it may still be perused as an independent work on the Ethical Doctrines and Systems. A.B.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE THEORY OF ETHICS.
PRELIMINARY VIEW OF ETHICAL QUESTIONS.
I.—The ETHICAL STANDARD. Summary of views.
II.—PSYCHOLOGICAL questions. 1. The Moral Faculty. 2. The Freedom of the Will; the sources of Disinterested conduct.
III.—The BONUM, SUMMUM BONUM, or Happiness.
IV.—The CLASSIFICATION OF DUTIES, and the Moral Code.
V.—Relationship of Ethics to POLITICS.
VI.—Relation to Theology.
THE ETHICAL STANDARD.
1. Ethics, as a department of Practice, is defined by its End.
2. The Ethical End is the welfare of society, realized through rules of conduct duly enforced.
3. The Rules of Ethics are of two kinds. The first are imposed under a penalty. These are Laws proper, or Obligatory Morality.
4. The second are supported by Rewards; constituting Optional Morality, Merit, Virtue, or Nobleness.
5. The Ethical End, or Morality, as it has been, is founded partly in Utility, and partly in Sentiment.
6. The Ethical End is limited, according to the view taken of Moral Government, or Authority:—Distinction between Security and Improvement.
7. Morality, in its essential parts, is 'Eternal and Immutable;' in other parts, it varies with custom.
8. Enquiry as to the kind, of proof that an Ethical Standard is susceptible of. The ultimate end of action must be referred to individual judgment.
9. The judgment of Mankind is, with some qualifications, in favour of Happiness as the supreme end of conduct.
10. The Ethical end that society is tending to, is Happiness, or Utility.
11. Objections against Utility. I.—Happiness is not the sole aim of human pursuit.
12. II.—The consequences of actions are beyond calculation.
13. III.—The principle of Utility contains no motives to seek the happiness of others.
THE MORAL FACULTY.
1. Question whether the Moral Faculty be simple or complex.
2. Arguments in favour of its being simple and intuitive:—First, Our moral judgments are immediate and instantaneous.
3. Secondly, It is a faculty common to all mankind.
4. Thirdly, It is different from any other mental phenomenon.
5. Replies to these Arguments, and Counter-arguments:—-First; Immediateness of operation is no proof of an innate origin.
6. Secondly, The alleged similarity of men's moral judgments holds only in a limited degree. Answers given by the advocates of an Innate sentiment, to the discrepancies.
7. Thirdly, Moral right and wrong is not an indivisible property, but an extensive Code of regulations.
8. Fourthly, Intuition is not sufficient to settle debated questions.
9. Fifthly, It is possible to analyze the Moral Faculty:—Estimate of the operation of (1) Prudence, (2) Sympathy, and (3) the Emotions generally.
10. The peculiar attribute of Rightness arises from the institution of Government or Authority.
11. The speciality of Conscience, or the Moral Sentiment, is identified with our education under Government, or Authority.
THE ETHICAL SYSTEMS.
SOKRATES. His subjects were Men and Society. His Ethical Standard indistinctly expressed. Resolved Virtue into Knowledge. Ideal of pursuit—Well-doing. Inculcated self-denying Precepts. Political Theory. Connexion of Ethics with Theology slender.
PLATO. Review of the Dialogues containing portions of Ethical Theory:—Alkibiades I. discusses Just and Unjust. Alkibiades II. the knowledge of Good or Reason. Hippias Minor identifies Virtue with Knowledge. Minos (on Law) refers everything to the decision of an Ideal Wise man. Laekes resolves Courage, and Charmides Temperance, into Intelligence or the supreme science of good and evil. Lysis (on Friendship) gives the Idea of the good as the supreme object of affection. Menon enquires, Is virtue teachable? and iterates the science of good and evil. Protagoras makes Pleasure the only good, and Pain the only evil, and defines the science of good and evil as the comparison of pleasures and pains. Gorgias contradicts Protagoras, and sets up Order or Discipline as a final end. Politikus (on Government) repeats the Sokratic ideal of the One Wise man. Philebus makes Good a compound of Pleasure with Intelligence, the last predominating. The Republic assimilates Society to an Individual man, and defines Justice as the balance of the constituent parts of each. Timoeus repeats the doctrine that wickedness is disease, and not voluntary. The Laws place all conduct under the prescription of the civil magistrate. Summary of Plato's views.
THE CYNICS AND THE CYRENAICS. Cynic succession. The proper description of the tenets of both schools comes under the Summum Bonum. The Cynic Ideal was the minimum of wants, and their self-denial was compensated by exemption from fear, and by pride of superiority. The Cyrenaic ARISTIPPUS:—Was the first to maintain that the summum bonum is Pleasure and the absence of Pain. Future Pleasures and Pains taken into the account. His Psychology of Pleasure and Pain.
ARISTOTLE. Abstract of the Nicomachean Ethics. Book First. The Chief Good, or Highest End of human endeavours. Great differences of opinion as to the nature of Happiness. The Platonic Idea of the Good criticised. The Highest End an end-in-itself. Virtue referable to the special work of man; growing out of his mental capacity. External conditions necessary to virtue and happiness. The Soul subdivided into parts, each, having its characteristic virtue or excellence.
Book Second. Definition and classification of the Moral virtues. Virtue the result of Habit. Doctrine of the MEAN. The test of virtue to feel no pain. Virtue defined (genus) an acquirement or a State, (differentia) a Mean between extremes. Rules for hitting the Mean.
Book Third. The Voluntary and Involuntary. Deliberate Preference. Virtue and vice are voluntary. The virtues in detail:—Courage [Self-sacrifice implied in Courage]. Temperance.
Book Fourth. Liberality. Magnificence. Magnanimity. Mildness. Good-breeding. Modesty.
Book Fifth. Justice:—Universal Justice includes all virtue. Particular Justice is of two kinds, Distributive and Corrective.
Book Sixth. Intellectual Excellences, or Virtues of the Intellect. The Rational part of the Soul embraces the Scientific and the Deliberative functions. Science deals with the necessary. Prudence or the Practical Reason; its aims and requisites. In virtue, good dispositions must be accompanied with Prudence.
Book Seventh. Gradations of moral strength and moral weakness. Continence and Incontinence.
Books Eighth and Ninth. Friendship:—Grounds of Friendship. Varieties of Friendship, corresponding to different objects of liking. Friendship between the virtuous is alone perfect. A settled habit, not a mere passion. Equality in friendship. Political friendships. Explanation of the family affections. Rule of reciprocity of services. Conflicting obligations. Cessation of friendships. Goodwill. Love felt by benefactors. Self-love. Does the happy man need friends?
Book Tenth. Pleasure:—Theories of Pleasure—Eudoxus, Speusippus, Plato. Pleasure is not The Good. Pleasure defined. The pleasures of Intellect. Nature of the Good or Happiness resumed. Perfect happiness found only in the philosophical life; second to which is the active social life of the good citizen. Happiness of the gods. Transition from Ethics to Politics.
THE STOICS. The succession of Stoical philosophers. Theological Doctrines of the Stoics:—The Divine Government; human beings must rise to the comprehension of Universal Law; the soul at death absorbed into the divine essence; argument from Design. Psychology:—Theory of Pleasure and Pain; theory of the Will. Doctrine of Happiness or the Good:—Pain no evil; discipline of endurance—Apathy. Theory of Virtue:—Subordination of self to the larger interests; their view of active Beneficence; the Stoical paradoxes; the idea of Duty; consciousness of Self-improvement.
EPICURUS. Life and writings. His successors. Virtue and vice referred by him to Pleasures and Pains calculated by Reason. Freedom from Pain the primary object. Regulation of desires. Pleasure good if not leading to pain. Bodily feeling the foundation of sensibility. Mental feelings contain memory and hope. The greatest miseries are from the delusions of hope, and from the torments of fear. Fear of Death and Fear of the Gods. Relations with others; Justice and Friendship—both based on reciprocity. Virtue and Happiness inseparable. Epicureanism the type of all systems grounded on enlightened self-interest.
THE NEO-PLATONISTS. The Moral End to be attained through an intellectual regimen. The soul being debased by its connection with matter, the aim of human action is to regain the spiritual life. The first step is the practice of the cardinal virtues: the next the purifying virtues. Happiness is the undisturbed life of contemplation. Correspondence of the Ethical, with the Metaphysical scheme.
SCHOLASTIC ETHICS. ABAELARD:—Lays great stress on the subjective element in morality; highest human good, love to God; actions judged by intention, and intention by conscience.
ST. BERNARD:—Two degrees of virtue, Humility and Love.
JOHN of SALISBURY:—Combines philosophy and theology; doctrine of Happiness; the lower and higher desires.
ALEXANDER OF HALES. BONAVENTURA. ALBERTUS MAGNUS. AQUINAS:—Aristotelian mode of enquiry as to the end; God the highest good; true happiness lies in the self-sufficing theoretic intelligence; virtue; division of the virtues.
HOBBES. (Abstract of the Ethical part of Leviathan). Constituents of man's nature. The Good. Pleasure. The simple passions. Theory of the Will. Good and evil. Conscience. Virtue. Position of Ethics in the Sciences. Power, Worth, Dignity. Happiness a perpetual progress; consequences of the restlessness of desire. Natural state of mankind; a state of enmity and war. Necessity of articles of peace, called Laws of Nature. Law defined. Rights; Renunciation of rights; Contract; Merit. Justice. Laws of Gratitude, Complaisance, Pardon upon repentance. Laws against Cruelty, Contumely, Pride, Arrogance. Laws of Nature, how far binding. Summary.
CUMBERLAND. Standard of Moral Good summed up in Benevolence. The moral faculty is the Reason, apprehending the Nature of Things. Innate Ideas an insufficient foundation. Will. Disinterested action. Happiness. Moral Code, the common good of all rational beings. Obligations in respect of giving and of receiving. Politics. Religion.
CUDWORTH. Moral Good and Evil cannot be arbitrary. The mind has a power of Intellection, above Sense, for aiming at the eternal and immutable verities.
CLARKE. The eternal Fitness and Unfitness of Things determine Justice, Equity, Goodness and Truth, and lay corresponding obligations upon reasonable creatures. The sanction of Rewards and Punishments secondary and additional. Our Duties.
WOLLASTON. Resolves good and evil into Truth and Falsehood.
LOCKE. Arguments against Innate Practical Principles. Freedom of the Will. Moral Rules grounded in law.
BUTLER. Characteristics of our Moral Perceptions. Disinterested Benevolence a fact of our constitutions. Our passions and affections do not aim at self as their immediate end. The Supremacy of Conscience established from our moral nature. Meanings of Nature. Benevolence not ultimately at variance with Self-Love.
HUTCHESON.—Primary feelings of the mind. Finer perceptions—Beauty, Sympathy, the Moral Sense, Social feelings; the benevolent order of the world suggesting Natural Religion. Order or subordination of the feelings as Motives; position of Benevolence. The Moral Faculty distinct and independent. Confirmation of the doctrine from the Sense of Honour. Happiness. The tempers and characters bearing on happiness. Duties to God. Circumstances affecting the moral good or evil of actions. Rights and Laws.
MANDEVILLE. Virtue supported solely by self-interest. Compassion resolvable into self. Pride an important source of moral virtue. Private vices, public benefits. Origin of Society.
HUME. Question whether Reason or Sentiment be the foundation of morals. The esteem for Benevolence shows that Utility enters into virtue. Proofs that Justice is founded solely on Utility. Political Society has utility for its end. The Laws. Why Utility pleases. Qualities useful to ourselves. Qualities agreeable (1) to ourselves, and (2) to others. Obligation. The respective share of Reason and of Sentiment in moral approbation. Benevolence not resolvable into Self-Love.
PRICE. The distinctions of Right and Wrong are perceived by the Understanding. The Beauty and Deformity of Actions. The feelings have some part in our moral discrimination. Self-Love and Benevolence. Good and ill Desert. Obligation. Divisions of Virtue. Intention as an element in virtuous action. Estimate of degrees of Virtue and Vice.
ADAM SMITH. Illustration of the workings of Sympathy. Mutual sympathy. The Amiable and the Respectable Virtues. How far the several passions are consistent with Propriety. Influences of prosperity and adversity on moral judgments. The Sense of Merit and Demerit. Self-approbation. Love of Praise and of Praiseworthiness. Influence and authority of Conscience. Self-partiality; corrected by the use of General Rules. Connexion of Utility with Moral Approbation. Influence of Custom on the Moral Sentiments. Character of Virtue. Self-command. Opinion regarding the theory of the Moral Sense.
HARTLEY. Account of Disinterestedness. The Moral Sense a product of Association.
REID. Duty not to be resolved into Interest. Conscience an original power of the mind. Axiomatic first principles of Morals. Objections to the theory of Utility.
STEWART. The Moral Faculty an original power. Criticism of opposing views. Moral Obligation: connexion with Religion. Duties. Happiness: classification of pleasures.
BROWN. Moral approbation a simple emotion of the mind. Universality of moral distinctions. Objections to the theory of Utility. Disinterested sentiment.
PALEY. The Moral Sense not intuitive. Happiness. Virtue: its definition. Moral Obligation resolved into the command of God. Utility a criterion of the Divine Will. Utility requires us to consider general consequences. Rights. Duties.
BENTHAM. Utility the sole foundation of Morals. Principles adverse to Utility. The Four Sanctions of Right. Comparative estimate of Pleasures and Pains. Classification of Pleasures and Pains. Merit and Demerit. Pleasures and pains viewed as Motives: some motives are Social or tutelary, others Dissocial or Self-regarding. Dispositions. The consequences of a mischievous act. Punishment. Private Ethics (Prudence) and Legislation distinguished; their respective spheres.
MACKINTOSH. Universality of Moral Distinctions. Antithesis or Reason and Passion. It is not virtuous acts but virtuous dispositions that outweigh the pains of self-sacrifice. The moral sentiments have for their objects Dispositions. Utility. Development of Conscience through Association; the constituents are Gratitude, Sympathy, Resentment and Shame, together with Education. Religion must presuppose Morality. Objections to Utility criticised. Duties to ourselves, an improper expression. Reference of moral sentiments to the Will.
JAMES MILL. Primary constituents of the Moral Faculty—pleasurable and painful sensations. The Causes of these sensations. The Ideas of them, and of their causes. Hope, Fear; Love, Joy; Hatred, Aversion. Remote causes of pleasures and pains—Wealth, Power, Dignity, and their opposites. Affections towards our fellow-creatures—Friendship, Kindness, &c. Motives. Dispositions. Applications to the virtue of Prudence. Justice—by what motives supported. Beneficence. Importance in moral training, of Praise and Blame, and their associations; the Moral Sanction. Derivation of Disinterested Feelings.
AUSTIN. Laws defined and classified. The Divine Laws; how are we to know the Divine Will? Utility the sole criterion. Objections to Utility. Criticism of the theory of a Moral Sense. Prevailing misconceptions as to Utility. Nature of Law resumed and illustrated. Impropriety of the term 'law' as applied to the operations of Nature.
WHEWELL. Opposing schemes of Morality. Proposal to reconcile them. There are some actions Universally approved. A Supreme Rule of Right to be arrived at by combining partial rules: these are obtained from the nature of our faculties. The rule of Speech is Truth; Property supposes Justice; the Affections indicate Humanity. It is a self-evident maxim that the Lower parts of our nature are governed by the Higher. Classification of Springs of Action. Disinterestedness. Classification of Moral Rules. Division of Rights.
FERRIER. Question of the Moral Sense: errors on both sides. Sympathy passes beyond feeling, and takes in Thought or self-consciousness. Happiness has two ends—the maintenance of man's Rational nature, and Pleasure.
MANSEL. The conceptions of Right and Wrong are sui generis. The moral law can have no authority unless emanating from a lawgiver. The Standard is the moral nature, and not the arbitrary will, of God.
JOHN STUART MILL. Explanation of what Utilitarianism consists in. Reply to objections against setting up Happiness as the Ethical end. Ultimate Sanction of the principle of Utility: the External and Internal sanctions; Conscience how made up. The sort of Proof that Utility is susceptible of:—the evidence that happiness is desirable, is that men desire it; it is consistent with Utility that virtue should be desired for itself. Connexion between Justice and Utility:—meanings of Justice; essentially grounded in Law; the sentiments that support Justice, are Self-defence, and Sympathy; Justice owes its paramount character to the essential of Security; there are no immutable maxims of Justice.
BAILEY. Facts of the human constitution that give origin to moral phenomena:—susceptibility to pleasure and pain, and to the causes of them; reciprocation of these; our expecting reciprocation from others; sympathy. Consideration of our feelings in regard to actions done to us by others. Our feelings as spectators of actions done to others by others. Actions done to ourselves by others. The different cases combine to modify each other. Explanation of the discrepancies of the moral sentiment in different communities. The consequences of actions the only criterion for rectifying the diversities. Objections to the happiness-test. The term Utility unsuitable. Disputes as to the origin of moral sentiment in Reason or in a Moral Sense.
SPENCER. Happiness the ultimate, but not the proximate, end. Moral Science a deduction from the laws of life and the conditions of existence. There have been, and still are, developing in the race, certain fundamental Moral Intuitions. The Expediency-Morality is transitional. Reference to the general theory of Evolution.
KANT. Distinguishes between the empirical and the rational mode of treating Ethics. Nothing properly good, except Will. Subjection of Will to Reason. An action done from natural inclination is worthless morally. Duty is respect for Law; conformity to Law is the one principle of volition. Moral Law not ascertainable empirically, it must originate a priori in pure (practical) Reason. The Hypothetical and Categorical Imperatives. Imperative of Prudence. Imperative of Morality. The formula of Morality. The ends of Morality. The Rational nature of man is an end-in-itself. The Will the source of its own laws—the Autonomy of the Will. The Reason of Ends. Morality alone has intrinsic Worth or Dignity. Principles founded on the Heteronomy of the Will—Happiness, Perfection. Duty legitimized by the conception of the Freedom of the Will, properly understood. Postulates of the pure Practical Reason—Freedom, Immortality, God. Summary.
COUSIN. Analysis of the sentiments aroused in us by human actions. The Moral Sentiment made up of a variety of moral judgments—Good and Evil, Obligation, Liberty, Merit and Demerit. Virtue brings Happiness. Moral Satisfaction and Remorse. The Law of Duty is conformity to Reason. The characteristic of Reason is Universality. Classification of Duties:—Duties to Self; to Others—Truth, Justice, Charity. Application to Politics.
JOUFFROY. Each creature has a special nature, and a special end. Man has certain primary passions to be satisfied. Secondary passions—the Useful, the Good, Happiness. All the faculties controlled by the Reason. The End of Interest. End of Universal Order. Morality the expression of divine thought; identified with the beautiful and the true. The moral law and self-interest coincide. Boundaries of the three states—Passion, Egoism, Moral determination.
THE THEORY OF ETHICS.
PRELIMINARY VIEW OF ETHICAL, QUESTIONS.
As a preface to the account of the Ethical Systems, and a principle of arrangement, for the better comparing of them, we shall review in order the questions that arise in the discussion.
I. First of all is the question as to the ETHICAL STANDARD. What, in the last resort, is the test, criterion, umpire, appeal, or Standard, in determining Right and Wrong? In the concrete language of Paley, "Why am I obliged to keep my word? The answer to this is the Theory of Right and Wrong, the essential part of every Ethical System."
We may quote the leading answers, as both explaining and summarizing the chief question of Ethics, and more especially of Modern Ethics.
1. It is alleged that the arbitrary Will of the Deity, as expressed in the Bible, is the ultimate standard. On this view anything thus commanded is right, whatever be its consequences, or however it may clash with our sentiments and reasonings.
2. It was maintained by Hobbes, that the Sovereign, acting under his responsibility to God, is the sole arbiter of Right and Wrong. As regards Obligatory Morality, this seems at first sight an identical proposition; morality is another name for law and sovereignty. In the view of Hobbes, however, the sovereign should be a single person, of absolute authority, humanly irresponsible, and irremoveable; a type of sovereignty repudiated by civilized nations.
3. It has been held, in various phraseology, that a certain fitness, suitability, or propriety in actions, as determined by our Understanding or Reason, is the ultimate test. "When a man keeps his word, there is a certain congruity or consistency between the action and the occasion, between the making of a promise and its fulfilment; and wherever such congruity is discernible, the action is right." This is the view of Cudworth, Clarke, and Price. It may be called the Intellectual or Rational theory.
A special and more abstract form of the same theory is presented in the dictum of Kant—'act in such a way that your conduct might be a law to all beings.'
4. It is contended, that the human mind possesses an intuition or instinct, whereby we feel or discern at once the right from the wrong; a view termed the doctrine of the Moral Sense, or Moral Sentiment. Besides being supported by numerous theorizers in Ethics, this is the prevailing and popular doctrine; it underlies most of the language of moral suasion. The difficulties attending the stricter interpretation of it have led to various modes of qualifying and explaining it, as will afterwards appear. Shaftesbury and Hutcheson are more especially identified with the enunciation of this doctrine in its modern aspect.
5. It was put forth by Mandeville that Self-interest is the only test of moral rightness. Self-preservation is the first law of being; and even when we are labouring for the good of others, we are still having regard to our own interest.
6. The theory called, Utility, and Utilitarianism, supposes that the well-being or happiness of mankind is the sole end, and ultimate standard of morality. The agent takes account both of his own happiness and of the happiness of others, subordinating, on proper occasions, the first to the second. This theory is definite in its opposition to all the others, but admits of considerable latitude of view within itself. Stoicism and Epicureanism, are both included in its compass.
The two last-named theories—Self-Interest, and Utility or the Common Well-Being, have exclusive regard to the consequences of actions; the others assign to consequences a subordinate position. The terms External and Dependent are also used to express the reference to Happiness as the end: Internal and Independent are the contrasting epithets.
II. Ethical Theory embraces certain questions of pure PSYCHOLOGY.
1. The Psychological nature of Conscience, the Moral Sense, or by whatever name we designate the faculty of distinguishing right and wrong, together with the motive power to follow the one and eschew the other. That such a faculty exists is admitted. The question is, what is its place and origin in the mind?
On the one side, Conscience is held to be a unique and ultimate power of the mind, like the feeling of Resistance, the sense of Taste, or the consciousness of Agreement. On the other side, Conscience is viewed as a growth or derivation from other recognized properties of the mind. The Theory of the Standard (4) called the doctrine of the Moral Sense, proceeds upon the first view; on that theory, the Standard and the Faculty make properly but one question. All other theories are more or less compatible with the composite or derivative nature of Conscience; the supporters of Utility, in particular, adopt this alternative.
2. A second Psychological question, regarded by many (notably by Kant) as vitally implicated in Moral Obligation, is the Freedom of the Will. The history of opinion on this subject has been in great part already given.
3. Thirdly, It has been debated, on Psychological grounds, whether our Benevolent actions (which all admit) are ultimately modes of self-regard, or whether there be, in the human mind, a source of purely Disinterested conduct. The first view, or the reference of benevolence to Self, admits of degrees and varieties of statement.
(1) It may be held that in performing good actions, we expect and obtain an immediate reward fully equivalent to the sacrifice made. Occasionally we are rewarded in kind; but the reward most usually forthcoming (according to Mandeville), is praise or flattery, to which the human mind is acutely sensitive.
(2) Our constitution may be such that we are pained by the sight of an object in distress, and give assistance, to relieve ourselves of the pain. This was the view of Hobbes; and it is also admitted by Mandeville as a secondary motive.
(3) We may be so formed as to derive enjoyment from the performance of acts of kindness, in the same immediate way that we are gratified by warmth, flowers, or music; we should thus be moved to benevolence by an intrinsic pleasure, and not by extraneous consequences.
Bentham speaks of the pleasures and the pains of Benevolence, meaning that we derive pleasure from causing pleasure to others, and pain from the sight of pain in others.
(4) It may be affirmed that, although we have not by nature any purely disinterested impulses, these are generated in us by associations and habits, in a manner similar to the conversion of means into final ends, as in the case of money. This is the view propounded by James Mill, and by Mackintosh.
Allowance being made for a certain amount of fact in these various modes of connecting Benevolence with self, it is still maintained in the present work, as by Butler, Hume, Adam Smith, and others, that human beings are (although very unequally) endowed with a prompting to relieve the pains and add to the pleasures of others, irrespective of all self-regarding considerations; and that such prompting is not a product of associations with self.
In the ancient world, purely disinterested conduct was abundantly manifested in practice, although not made prominent in Ethical Theory. The enumeration of the Cardinal Virtues does not expressly contain Benevolence; but under Courage, Self-sacrifice was implied. Patriotic Self-devotion, Love, and Friendship were virtues highly cultivated. In Cicero, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius, there is a recognition of general Benevolence.
The two heads now sketched—The Standard and the Psychology of our Moral nature—almost entirely exhaust modern Ethics. Smith, Stewart, and Mackintosh agree in laying down as the points in dispute these two:—First, What does virtue consist in? Secondly, What is the power or faculty of the mind that discovers and enforces it?
These two positions, however, are inadequate as regards Ancient Ethics. For remedying the deficiency, and for bringing to light matters necessary to the completeness of an Ethical survey, we add the following heads:—
III. The Theory of what constitutes the Supreme END of Life, the BONUM or the SUMMUM BONUM. The question as to the highest End has divided the Ethical Schools, both ancient and modern. It was the point at issue between the Stoics and the Epicureans. That Happiness is not the highest end has been averred, in modern times, by Butler and others: the opposite position is held by the supporters of Utility. What may be called the severe and ascetic systems (theoretically) refuse to sanction any pursuit of happiness or pleasure, except through virtue, or duty to others. The view practically proceeded upon, now and in most ages, is that virtue discharges a man's obligations to his fellows, which being accomplished, he is then at liberty to seek what pleases himself. (For the application of the laws of mind to the theory of HAPPINESS, see Appendix C.)
IV.-The CLASSIFICATION OF DUTIES is characteristic of different systems and different authors. The oldest scheme is the Four Cardinal Virtues—Prudence, Courage, Temperance, Justice. The modern Christian moralists usually adopt the division—Duties to God, to Others, to Self.
Moreover, there are differences in the substance of Morality itself, or the things actually imposed. The code under Christianity has varied both from Judaism and from Paganism.
V.-The relationship of Ethics to POLITICS is close, while the points of difference of the two are also of great importance. In Plato the two subjects were inseparable; and in Aristotle, they were blended to excess. Hobbes also joined Ethics and Politics in one system. (See Chap, ii., Sec. 3.)
VI.-The relation of Ethics to THEOLOGY is variously represented in modern systems. The Fathers and the Schoolmen accepted the authority of the Bible chiefly on tradition, and did not venture to sit in judgment on the substance of the revelation. They, therefore, rested their Ethics exclusively on the Bible; or, at most, ventured upon giving some mere supplement of its precepts.
Others, in more modern times, have considered that the moral character of a revelation enters into the evidence in its favour; whence, morality must be considered as independent, and exclusively human, in its origin. It would be reasoning in a circle to derive the moral law from the bible, and then to prove the bible from the moral law.
Religion superadds its own sanction to the moral duties, so far as adopted by it; laying especial stress upon select precepts. It likewise calls into being a distinct code of duties, the religious duties strictly so called; which have no force except with believers. The 'duties to God,' in the modern classification, are religious, as distinguished from moral duties.
THE ETHICAL STANDARD.
1. ETHICS, or Morality, is a department of Practice; and, as with other practical departments, is defined by its End.
Ethics is not mere knowledge or speculation, like the sciences of Astronomy, Physiology, or Psychology; it is knowledge applied to practice, or useful ends, like Navigation, Medicine, or Politics. Every practical subject has some end to be served, the statement of which is its definition in the first instance. Navigation is the applying of different kinds of knowledge, and of a variety of devices, to the end of sailing the seas.
2. The Ethical End is a certain portion of the welfare of human beings living together in society, realized through rules of conduct duly enforced.
The obvious intention of morality is the good of mankind. The precepts—do not steal, do not kill, fulfil agreements, speak truth—whatever other reasons may be assigned for them, have a direct tendency to prevent great evils that might otherwise arise in the intercourse of human beings.
Farther, the good aimed at by Ethics is attained by rules of acting, on the part of one human being to another; and, inasmuch as these rules often run counter to the tendencies of the individual mind, it is requisite to provide adequate inducements to comply with them.
The Ethical End is what is otherwise called the STANDARD, test, or criterion, of Right and Wrong. The leading controversy of Morals is centered in this point.
3. The Rules of Ethics, termed also Law, Laws, the Moral Law, are of two kinds:—
The first are rules imposed under a Penalty for neglect, or violation. The penalty is termed Punishment; the imposing party is named Government, or Authority; and the rules so imposed and enforced, are called Laws proper, Morality proper, Obligatory Morality, Duty.
4. The second are rules whose only external support is Rewards; constituting Optional Morality, Merit, Virtue, or Nobleness.
Moral duties are a set of rules, precepts, or prescriptions, for the direction of human conduct in a certain sphere or province. These rules are enforced by two kinds of motives, requiring to be kept distinct.
I.—One class of rules are made compulsory by the infliction of pain, in the case of violation or neglect. The pain so inflicted is termed a Penalty, or Punishment; it is one of the most familiar experiences of all human beings living in society.
The Institution that issues Rules of this class, and inflicts punishment when they are not complied with, is termed Government, or Authority; all its rules are authoritative, or obligatory; they are Laws strictly so called, Laws proper. Punishment, Government, Authority, Superiority, Obligation, Law, Duty,—define each other; they are all different modes of regarding the same fact.
Morality is thus in every respect analagous to Civil Government, or the Law of the Land. Nay, farther, it squares, to a very great extent, with Political Authority. The points where the two coincide, and those where they do not coincide, may be briefly stated:—
(1) All the most essential parts of Morality are adopted and carried out by the Law of the Land. The rules for protecting person and property, for fulfilling contracts, for performing reciprocal duties, are rules or laws of the State; and are enforced by the State, through its own machinery. The penalties inflicted by public authority constitute what is called the Political Sanction; they are the most severe, and the most strictly and dispassionately administered, of all penalties.
(2) There are certain Moral duties enforced, not by public and official authority, but by the members of the community in their private capacity. These are sometimes called the Laws of Honour, because they are punished by withdrawing from the violator the honour or esteem of his fellow-citizens. Courage, Prudence as regards self, Chastity, Orthodoxy of opinion, a certain conformity in Tastes and Usages,—are all prescribed by the mass of each community, to a greater or less extent, and are insisted on under penalty of social disgrace and excommunication. This is the Social or the Popular Sanction. The department so marked out, being distinct from the Political sphere, is called, by Austin, Positive Morality, or Morality proper.
Public opinion also chimes in with the Law, and adds its own sanction to the legal penalties for offences: unless the law happens to be in conflict with the popular sentiment. Criminals, condemned by the law, are additionally punished by social disgrace.
(3) The Law of the Land contains many enactments, besides the Moral Code and the machinery for executing it. The Province of government passes beyond the properly protective function, and includes many institutions of public convenience, which are not identified with right and wrong. The defence from external enemies; the erection of works of public utility; the promotion of social improvements,—are all within the domain of the public authority.
II.—The second class of Rules are supported, not by penalties, but by Rewards. Society, instead of punishing men for not being charitable or benevolent, praises and otherwise rewards them, when they are so. Hence, although Morality inculcates benevolence, this is not a Law proper, it is not obligatory, authoritative, or binding; it is purely voluntary, and is termed merit, virtuous and noble conduct.
In this department, the members of the community, in their unofficial capacity, are the chief agents and administrators. The Law of the Land occupies itself with the enforcement of its own obligatory rules, having at its command a perfect machinery of punishment. Private individuals administer praise, honour, esteem, approbation, and reward. In a few instances, the Government dispenses rewards, as in the bestowal of office, rank, titles, and pensions, but this function is exceptional and limited.
The conduct rewarded by Society is chiefly resolvable into Beneficence. Whoever is moved to incur sacrifices, or to go through labours, for the good of others, is the object, not merely of gratitude from the persons benefited, but of approbation from society at large.
Any remarkable strictness or fidelity in the discharge of duties properly so called, receives general esteem. Even in matters merely ceremonial, if importance be attached to them, sedulous and exact compliance, being the distinction of the few, will earn the approbation of the many.
5. The Ethical End, or Morality, as it has been, is founded partly on Well-being, or Utility: and partly on Sentiment.
The portions of Morality, having in view the prevention of human misery and the promotion of human happiness, are known and obvious. They are not the whole of Morality as it has been.
Sentiment, caprice, arbitrary liking or disliking, are names for states of feeling that do not necessarily arise from their objects, but may be joined or disjoined by education, custom, or the power of the will. The revulsion of mind, on the part of the Jews, against eating the pig, and on our own part, as regards horse flesh, is not a primitive or natural sensibility, like the pain of hunger, or of cold, or of a musical discord; it is purely artificial; custom has made it, and could unmake it. The feeling of fatigue from overwork is natural; the repugnance of caste to manual labour is factitious. The dignity attached to the military profession, and the indignity of the office of public executioner, are capricious, arbitrary, and sentimental. Our prospective regard to the comforts of our declining years points to a real interest; our feelings as to the disposal of the body after death are purely factitious and sentimental. Such feelings are of the things in our own power; and the grand mistake of the Stoics was their viewing all good and evil whatever in the same light.
It is an essential part of human liberty, to permit each person to form and to indulge these sentiments or caprices; although a good education should control them with a view to our happiness on the whole. But, when any individual liking or fancy of this description is imposed as a law upon the entire community, it is a perversion and abuse of power, a confounding of the Ethical end by foreign admixtures. Thus, to enjoin authoritatively one mode of sepulture, punishing all deviations from that, could have nothing to do with the preservation of the order of society. In such a matter, the interference of the state in modern times, has regard to the detection of crime in the matter of life and death, and to the evils arising from the putrescence of the dead.
6. The Ethical End, although properly confined to Utility, is subject to still farther limitations, according to the view taken of the Province of Moral Government, or Authority.
Although nothing should be made morally obligatory but what is generally useful, the converse does not hold; many kinds of conduct are generally useful, but not morally obligatory. A certain amount of bodily exercise in the open air every day would be generally useful; but neither the law of the land nor public opinion compels it. Good roads are works of great utility; it is not every one's duty to make them.
The machinery of coercion is not brought to bear upon every conceivable utility. It is principally reserved, when not abused, for a select class of utilities.
Some utilities are indispensable to the very existence of men in society. The primary moral duties must be observed to some degree, if men are to live together as men, and not to roam at large as beasts. The interests of Security are the first and most pressing concern of human society. Whatever relates to this has a surpassing importance. Security is contrasted with Improvement; what relates to Security is declared to be Right; what relates to Improvement is said to be Expedient; both are forms of Utility, but the one is pressing and indispensable, the other is optional. The same difference is expressed by the contrasts—Being and Well-being; Existence and Prosperous Existence; Fundamentals or Essentials and Circumstantials. That the highway robber should be punished is a part of Being; that the highways should be in good repair, is a part of Well-being. That Justice should be done is Existence; that farmers and traders should give in to government the statistics of their occupation, is a means to Prosperous Existence.
It is proper to advert to one specific influence in moral enactments, serving to disguise the Ethical end, and to widen the distinction between morality as it has been, and morality as it ought to be. The enforcing of legal and moral enactments demands a power of coercion, to be lodged in the hands of certain persons; the possession of which is a temptation to exceed the strict exigencies of public safety, or the common welfare. Probably many of the whims, fancies, ceremonies, likings and antipathies, that have found their way into the moral codes of nations, have arisen from the arbitrary disposition of certain individuals happening to be in authority at particular junctures. Even the general community, acting in a spontaneous manner, imposes needless restraints upon itself, delighting more in the exercise of power, than in the freedom of individual action.
7. Morality, in its essential parts, is 'Eternal and Immutable;' in other parts, it varies with Custom.
(1) The rules for protecting one man from another, for enforcing justice, and the observance of contracts, are essential and fundamental, and may be styled 'Eternal and Immutable.' The ends to be served require these rules; no caprice of custom could change them without sacrificing these ends. They are to society what food is to individual life, of sexual intercourse and mother's care to the continuance of the race. The primary moralities could not be exchanged for rules enacting murder, pillage, injustice, unveracity, repudiation of engagements; because under these rules, human society would fall to pieces.
(2) The manner of carrying into effect these primary regulations of society, varies according to Custom. In some communities the machinery is rude and imperfect; while others have greatly improved it. The Greeks took the lead in advancing judicial machinery, the Romans followed.
In the regulations not essential to Being, but important to Well-being, there has prevailed the widest discrepancy of usage. The single department relating to the Sexes is a sufficient testimony on this head. No one form of the family is indispensable to the existence of society; yet some forms are more favourable to general happiness than others. But which form is on the whole the best, has greatly divided opinion; and legislation has varied accordingly. The more advanced nations have adopted compulsory monogamy, thereby giving the prestige of their authority in favour of that system. But it cannot be affirmed that the joining of one man to one woman is a portion of 'Eternal and Immutable Morality.'
Morality is an Institution of society, but not an arbitrary institution.
8. Before adducing the proofs in support of the position above assumed, namely, that Utility or Human Happiness, with certain limitations, is the proper criterion of Morality, it is proper to enquire, what sort of evidence the Ethical Standard is susceptible of.
Hitherto, the doctrine of Utility has been assumed, in order to be fully stated. We must next review the evidence in its favour, and the objections urged against it. It is desirable, however, to ask what kind of proof should be expected on such a question.
In the Speculative or Theoretical sciences, we prove a doctrine by referring it to some other doctrine or doctrines, until we come at last to some assumption that must be rested in as ultimate or final. We can prove the propositions of Euclid, the law of gravitation, the law of atomic proportions, the law of association; we cannot prove our present sensations, nor can we demonstrate that what has been, will be. The ultimate data must be accepted as self-evident; they have no higher authority than that mankind generally are disposed to accept them.
In the practical Sciences, the question is not as to a principle of the order of nature, but as to an end of human action. There may be derived Ends, which are susceptible of demonstrative proof; but there must also be ultimate Ends, for which no proof can be offered; they must be received as self-evident, and their sole authority is the person receiving them. In most of the practical sciences, the ends are derived; the end of Medicine is Health, which is an end subsidiary to the final end of human happiness. So it is with Navigation, with Politics, with Education, and others. In all of them, we recognize the bearing upon human welfare, or happiness, as a common, comprehensive, and crowning end. On the theory of Utility, Morals is also governed by this highest end.
Now, there can be no proof offered for the position that Happiness is the proper end of all human pursuit, the criterion of all right conduct. It is an ultimate or final assumption, to be tested by reference to the individual judgment of mankind. If the assumption, that misery, and not happiness, is the proper end of life, found supporters, no one could reply, for want of a basis of argument—an assumption still more fundamental agreed upon by both sides. It would probably be the case, that the supporters of misery, as an end, would be at some point inconsistent with themselves; which would lay them open to refutation. But to any one consistently maintaining the position, there is no possible reply, because there is no medium of proof.
If then, it appears, on making the appeal to mankind, that happiness is admitted to be the highest end of all action, the theory of Utility is proved.
9. The judgment of Mankind is very generally in favour of Happiness, as the Supreme end of human conduct, Morality included.
This decision, however, is not given without qualifications and reservations; nor is there perfect unanimity regarding it.
The theory of Motives to the Will is the answer to the question as to the ends of human action. According to the primary law of the Will, each one of us, for ourselves, seeks pleasure and avoids pain, present or prospective. The principle is interfered with by the operation of Fixed Ideas, under the influence of the feelings; whence we have the class of Impassioned, Exaggerated, Irrational Motives or Ends. Of these influences, one deserves to be signalized as a source of virtuous conduct, and as approved of by mankind generally; that is, Sympathy with others.
Under the Fixed Idea, may be ranked the acquired sense of Dignity, which induces us often to forfeit pleasure and incur pain. We should not choose the life of Plato's beatified oyster, or (to use Aristotle's example) be content with perpetual childhood, with however great a share of childish happiness.
10. The Ethical end that men are tending to, and may ultimately adopt without reservation, is human Welfare, Happiness, or Being and Well-being combined, that is, Utility.
The evidence consists of such facts as these:—
(1) By far the greater part of the morality of every age and country has reference to the welfare of society. Even in the most superstitious, sentimental, and capricious despotisms, a very large share of the enactments, political and moral, consist in protecting one man from another, and in securing justice between man and man. These objects may be badly carried out, they may be accompanied with much oppression of the governed by the governing body, but they are always aimed at, and occasionally secured. Of the Ten Commandments, four pertain to Religious Worship; six are Utilitarian, that is, have no end except to ward off evils, and to further the good of mankind.
(2) The general welfare is at all times considered a strong and adequate justification of moral rules, and is constantly adduced as a motive for obedience. The commonplaces in support of law and morality represent, that if murder and theft were to go unpunished, neither life nor property would be safe; men would be in eternal warfare; industry would perish; society must soon come to an end.
There is a strong disposition to support the more purely sentimental requirements, and even the excesses of mere tyranny, by utilitarian reasons.
The cumbersome ablutions of oriental nations are defended on the ground of cleanliness. The divine sanctity of kings is held to be an aid to social obedience. Slavery is alleged to have been at one time necessary to break in mankind to industry. Indissoluble marriage arose from a sentiment rather than from utility; but the arguments, commonly urged in its favour, are utilitarian.
(3) In new cases, and in cases where no sentiment or passion is called into play, Utility alone is appealed to. In any fresh enactment, at the present day, the good of the community is the only justification that would be listened to. If it were proposed to forbid absolutely the eating of pork in Christian countries, some great public evils would have to be assigned as the motive. Were the fatalities attending the eating of pork, on account of trichiniae, to become numerous, and unpreventible, there would then be a reason, such as a modern civilized community would consider sufficient, for making the rearing of swine a crime and an immorality. But no mere sentimental or capricious dislike to the pig, on the part of any number of persons, could now procure an enactment for disusing that animal.
(4) There is a gradual tendency to withdraw from the moral code, observances originating purely in sentiment, and having little or no connexion with human welfare.
We have abandoned the divine sacredness of kings. We no longer consider ourselves morally bound to denounce and extirpate heretics and witches, still less to observe fasts and sacred days. Even in regard to the Christian Sabbath, the opinion is growing in favour of withdrawing both the legal and popular sanction formerly so stringent; while the arguments for Sabbath observance are more and more charged with considerations of secular utility.
Should these considerations be held as adequate to support the proposition advanced, they are decisive in favour of Utility as the Moral Standard that ought to be. Any other standard that may be set up in competition with Utility, must ultimately ground itself on the very same appeal to the opinions and the practice of mankind.
11. The chief objections urged against Utility as the moral Standard have been in great part anticipated. Still, it is proper to advert to them in detail.
I.—It is maintained that Happiness is not, either in fact or in right, the sole aim of human pursuit; that men actually, deliberately, and by conscientious preference, seek other ends. For example, it is affirmed that Virtue is an end in itself, without regard to happiness.
On this argument it may be observed:—
(1) It has been abundantly shown in this work, that one part of the foregoing affirmation is strictly true. Men are not urged to action exclusively by their pleasures and their pains. They are urged by other motives, of the impassioned kind; among which, is to be signalized sympathy with the pains and pleasures of others. If this had been the only instance of action at variance with the regular course of the will, we should be able to maintain that the motive to act is still happiness, but not always the agent's own happiness. We have seen, however, that individuals, not unfrequently, act in opposition both to their own, and to other people's happiness; as when mastered by a panic, and when worked up into a frenzy of anger or antipathy.
The sound and tenable position seems to be this:—Human beings, in their best and soberest moods, looking before and after, weighing all the consequences of actions, are generally disposed to regard Happiness, to some beings or others, as the proper end of all endeavours. The mother is not exclusively bent on her own happiness; she is upon her child's. Howard abandoned the common pleasures of life for himself, to diminish the misery of fellow creatures.
(2) It is true that human beings are apt to regard Virtue as an end-in-itself, and not merely as a means to happiness as the final end. But the fact is fully accounted for on the general law of Association by Contiguity; there being many other examples of the same kind, as the love of money. Justice, Veracity, and other virtues, are requisite, to some extent, for the existence of society, and, to a still greater extent, for prosperous existence. Under such circumstances, it would certainly happen that the means would participate in the importance of the end, and would even be regarded as an end in itself.
(3) The great leading duties may be shown to derive their estimation from their bearing upon human welfare. Take first, Veracity or Truth. Of all the moral duties, this has most the appearance of being an absolute and independent requirement. Yet mankind have always approved of deception practised upon an enemy in war, a madman, or a highway robber. Also, secrecy or concealment, even although misinterpreted, is allowed, when it does not cause pernicious results; and is even enjoined and required in the intercourse of society, in order to prevent serious evils. But an absolute standard of truth is incompatible, even with secrecy or disguise; in departing from the course of perfect openness, or absolute publicity of thought and action, in every possible circumstance, we renounce ideal truth in favour of a compromised or qualified veracity—a pursuit of truth in subordination to the general well-being of society.
Still less is there any form of Justice that does not have respect to Utility. If Justice is defined as giving to every one their own, the motive clearly is to prevent misery to individuals. If there were a species of injustice that made no one unhappier, we may be quite sure that tribunals would not be set up for enforcing and punishing it. The idea of equality in Justice is seemingly an absolute conception, but, in point of fact, equality is a matter of institution. The children of the same parent are, in certain circumstances, regarded as unequal by the law; and justice consists in respecting this inequality.
The virtue of Self-denial, is one that receives the commendation of society, and stands high in the morality of reward. Still, it is a means to an end. The operation of the associating principle tends to raise it above this point to the rank of a final end. And there is an ascetic scheme of life that proceeds upon this supposition; but the generality of mankind, in practice, if not always in theory, disavow it.
(4) It is often affirmed by those that regard virtue, and not happiness, as the end, that the two coincide in the long run. Now, not to dwell upon the very serious doubts as to the matter of fact, a universal coincidence without causal connexion is so rare as to be in the last degree improbable. A fiction of this sort was contrived by Leibnitz, under the title of 'pre-established harmony;' but, among the facts of the universe, there are only one or two cases known to investigation.
12. II.—It is objected to Utility as the Standard, that the bearings of conduct on general happiness are too numerous to be calculated; and that even where the calculation is possible, people have seldom time to make it.
(1) It is answered, that the primary moral duties refer to conduct where the consequences are evident and sure. The disregard of Justice and Truth would to an absolute certainty bring about a state of confusion and ruin; their observance, in any high degree, contributes to raise the standard of well-being.
In other cases, the calculation is not easy, from the number of opposing considerations. For example, there are two sides to the question, Is dissent morally wrong? in other words, Ought all opinions to be tolerated? But if we venture to decide such a question, without the balancing or calculating process, we must follow blindfold the dictates of one or other of the two opposing sentiments,—Love of Power and Love of Liberty.
It is not necessary that we should go through the process of calculation every time we have occasion to perform a moral act. The calculations have already been performed for all the leading duties, and we have only to apply the maxims to the cases as they arise.
13. III.—The principle of Utility, it is said, contains no motives to seek the Happiness of others; it is essentially a form of Self-Love.
The averment is that Utility is a sufficient motive to pursue our own happiness, and the happiness of others as a means to our own; but it does not afford any purely disinterested impulses; it is a Selfish theory after all.
Now, as Utility is, by profession, a benevolent and not a selfish theory, either such profession is insincere, or there must be an obstruction in carrying it out. That the supporters of the theory are insincere, no one has a right to affirm. The only question then is, what are the difficulties opposed by this theory, and not present in other theories (the Moral Sense, for example) to benevolent impulses on the part of individuals?
Let us view the objection first as regards the Morality of Obligation, or the duties that bind society together. Of these duties, only a small number aim at positive beneficence; they are either Protective of one man against another, or they enforce Reciprocity, which is another name for Justice. The chief exception is the requiring of a minimum of charity towards the needy.
This department of duty is maintained by the force of a certain mixture of prudential and of beneficent considerations, on the part of the majority, and by prudence (as fear of punishment) on the part of the minority. But there does not appear to be anything in our professedly Benevolent Theory of Morals to interfere with the small portion of disinterested impulse that is bound up-with prudential regards, in the total of motives concerned in the morality of social order called the primary or obligatory morality.
Let us, in the next place, view the objection as regards Optional Morality, where positive beneficence has full play. The principal motive in this department is Reward, in the shape either of benefits or of approbation. Now, there is nothing to hinder the supporters of the standard of Utility from joining in the rewards or commendations bestowed on works of charity and beneficence.
Again, there is, in the constitution of the mind, a motive superior to reward, namely, Sympathy proper, or the purely Disinterested impulse to alleviate the pains and advance the pleasures of others. This part of the mind is wholly unselfish; it needs no other prompting than the fact that some one is in pain, or may be made happier by something within the power of the agent.
The objectors need to be reminded that Obligatory Morality, which works by punishment, creates a purely selfish motive; that Optional Morality, in so far as stimulated by Reward, is also selfish; and that the only source of purely disinterested impulses is in the unprompted Sympathy of the individual mind. If such sympathies exist, and if nothing is done to uproot or paralyze them, they will urge men to do good to others, irrespective of all theories. Good done from any other source or motive is necessarily self-seeking. It is a common remark, with reference to the sanctions of a future life, that they create purely self-regarding motives. Any proposal to increase disinterested action by moral obligation contains a self-contradiction; it is suicidal. The rich may be made to give half their wealth to the poor; but in as far as they are made to do it, they are not benevolent. Law distrusts generosity and supersedes it. If a man is expected to regard the happiness of others as an end in itself, and not as means to his own happiness, he must be left to his own impulses: 'the quality of mercy is not strained' The advocates of Utility may observe non-interference as well as others.
THE MORAL FACULTY.
1. The chief question in the Psychology of Ethics is whether the Moral Faculty, or Conscience, be a simple or a complex fact of the mind.
Practically, it would seem of little importance in what way the moral faculty originated, except with a view to teach us how it may be best strengthened when it happens to be weak. Still, a very great importance has been attached to the view, that it is simple and innate; the supposition being that a higher authority thereby belongs to it. If it arises from mere education, it depends on the teacher for the time being; if it exists prior to all education, it seems to be the voice of universal nature or of God.
2. In favour of the simple and intuitive character of Moral Sentiment, it is argued:—
First, That our judgments of right and wrong are immediate and instantaneous.
On almost all occasions, we are ready at once to pronounce an action right or wrong. We do not need to deliberate or enquire, or to canvass reasons and considerations for and against, in order to declare a murder, a theft, or a lie to be wrong. We are fully armed with the power of deciding all such questions; we do not hesitate, like a person that has to consult a variety of different faculties or interests. Just as we pronounce at once whether the day is light or dark, hot or cold; whether a weight is light or heavy;—we are able to say whether an action is morally right or the opposite.
3. Secondly, It is a faculty or power belonging to all mankind.
This was expressed by Cicero, in a famous passage, often quoted with approbation, by the supporters of innate moral distinctions. 'There is one true and original law conformable to reason and to nature, diffused over all, invariable, eternal, which calls to duty and deters from injustice, &c.'
4. Thirdly, Moral Sentiment is said to be radically different in its nature from any other fact or phenomenon of the mind.
The peculiar state of discriminating right and wrong, involving approbation and disapprobation, is considered to be entirely unlike any other mental element; and, if so, we are precluded from resolving or analyzing it into simpler modes of feeling, willing, or thinking.
We have many feelings that urge us to act and abstain from acting; but the prompting of conscience has something peculiar to itself, which has been expressed by the terms rightness, authority, supremacy. Other motives,—hunger, curiosity, benevolence, and so on,—have might, this has right.
So, the Intellect has many occasions for putting forth its aptitudes of discriminating, identifying, remembering; but the operation of discerning right and wrong is supposed to be a unique employment of those functions.
5. In reply to these arguments, and in support of the view that the Moral Faculty is complex and derived, the following considerations are urged:—
First, The Immediateness of a judgment, is no proof of its being innate; long practice or familiarity has the same effect.
In proportion as we are habituated to any subject, or any class of operations, our decisions are rapid and independent of deliberation. An expert geometer sees at a glance whether a demonstration is correct. In extempore speech, a person has to perform every moment a series of judgments as to the suitability of words to meaning, to grammar, to taste, to effect upon an audience. An old soldier knows in an instant, without thought or deliberation, whether a position is sufficiently guarded. There is no greater rapidity in the judgments of right and wrong, than in these acquired professional judgments.
Moreover, the decisions of conscience are quick only in the simpler cases. It happens not unfrequently that difficult and protracted deliberations are necessary to a moral judgment.
6. Secondly, The alleged similarity of men's moral judgments in all countries and times holds only to a limited degree.
The very great differences among different nations, as to what constitutes right and wrong, are too numerous, striking, and serious, not to have been often brought forward in Ethical controversy. Robbery and murder are legalized in whole nations. Macaulay's picture of the Highland Chief of former days is not singular in the experience of mankind.
'His own vassals, indeed, were few in number, but he came of the best blood of the Highlands. He kept up a close connexion with his more powerful kinsmen; nor did they like him the less because he was a robber; for he never robbed them; and that robbery, merely as robbery, was a wicked and disgraceful act, had never entered into the mind of any Celtic chief.'
Various answers have been given by the advocates of innate morality to these serious discrepancies.
(1) It is maintained that savage or uncultivated nations are not a fair criterion of mankind generally: that as men become more civilized, they approximate to unity of moral sentiment; and what civilized men agree in, is alone to be taken as the judgment of the race.
Now, this argument would have great weight, in any discussion as to what is good, useful, expedient, or what is in accordance with the cultivated reason or intelligence of mankind; because civilization consists in the exercise of men's intellectual faculties to improve their condition. But in a controversy as to what is given us by nature,—what we possess independently of intelligent search and experience,—the appeal to civilization does not apply. What civilized men agree upon among themselves, as opposed to savages, is likely to be the reverse of a natural instinct; in other words, something suggested by reason and experience.
In the next place, counting only civilized races, that is, including the chief European, American, and Asiatic peoples of the present day, and the Greeks and Romans of the ancient world, we still find disparities on what are deemed by us fundamental points of moral right and wrong. Polygamy is regarded as right in Turkey, India, and China, and as wrong in England. Marriages that we pronounce incestuous were legitimate in ancient times. The views entertained by Plato and Aristotle as to the intercourse of the sexes are now looked upon with abhorrence.
(2) It has been replied that, although men differ greatly in what they consider right and wrong, they all agree in possessing some notion of right and wrong. No people are entirely devoid of moral judgments.
But this is to surrender the only position of any real importance. The simple and underived character of the moral faculty is maintained because of the superior authority attached to what is natural, as opposed to what is merely conventional. But if nothing be natural but the mere fact of right and wrong, while all the details, which alone have any value, are settled by convention and custom, we are as much at sea on one system as on the other.
(3) It is fully admitted, being, indeed, impossible to deny, that education must concur with natural impulses in making up the moral sentiment. No human being, abandoned entirely to native promptings, is ever found to manifest a sense of right and wrong. As a general rule, the strength of the conscience depends on the care bestowed on its cultivation. Although we have had to recognize primitive distinctions among men as to the readiness to take on moral training, still, the better the training, the stronger will be the conscientious determinations.
But this admission has the effect of reducing the part performed by nature to a small and uncertain amount. Even if there were native preferences, they might be completely overborne and reversed by an assiduous education. The difference made by inculcation is so great, that it practically amounts to everything. A voice so feeble as to be overpowered by foreign elements would do no credit to nature.
7. Thirdly, Moral right and wrong is not so much a simple, indivisible property, as an extensive Code of regulations, which cannot even be understood without a certain maturity of the intelligence.
If is not possible to sum up the whole field of moral right and wrong, so as to bring it within the scope of a single limited perception, like the perception of resistance, or of colour. In regard to some of the alleged intuitions at the foundation of our knowledge, as for example time and space, there is a comparative simplicity and unity, rendering their innate origin less disputable. No such simplicity can be assigned in the region of duty.
After the subject of morals has been studied in the detail, it has, indeed, been found practicable to comprise the whole, by a kind of generalization, in one comprehensive recognition of regard to our fellows. But, in the first place, this is far from a primitive or an intuitive suggestion of the mind. It came at a late stage of human history, and is even regarded as a part of Revelation. In the second place, this high generality must be accompanied with detailed applications to particular cases and circumstances. Life is full of conflicting demands, and there must be special rules to adjust these various demands. We have to be told that country is greater than family; that temporary interests are to succumb to more enduring, and so on.
Supposing the Love of our Neighbour to unfold in detail, as it expresses in sum, the whole of morality, this is only another name for our Sympathetic, Benevolent, or Disinterested regards, into which therefore Conscience would be resolved, as it was by Hume.
But Morals is properly considered as a wide-ranging science, having a variety of heads full of difficulty, and demanding minute consideration. The subject of Justice, has nothing simple but the abstract statement—giving each one their due; before that can be applied, we must ascertain what is each person's due, which introduces complex questions of relative merit, far transcending the sphere of intuition.
If any part of Morals had the simplicity of an instinct, it would be regard to Truth. The difference between truth and falsehood might almost be regarded as a primitive susceptibility, like the difference between light and dark, between resistance and non-resistance. That each person should say what is, instead of what is not, may well seem a primitive and natural impulse. In circumstances of perfect indifference, this would be the obvious and usual course of conduct; being, like the straight line, the shortest distance between two points. Let a motive arise, however, in favour of the lie, and there is nothing to insure the truth. Reference must be made to other parts of the mind, from which counter-motives may be furnished; and the intuition in favour of Truth, not being able to support itself, has to repose on the general foundation of all virtue, the instituted recognition of the claims of others.
8. Fourthly, Intuition is incapable of settling the debated questions of Practical Morality.
If we recall some of the great questions of practical life that have divided the opinions of mankind, we shall find that mere Intuition is helpless to decide them.
The toleration of heretical opinions has been a greatly contested point. Our feelings are arrayed on both sides; and there is no prompting of nature to arbitrate between the opposing impulses. If the advance of civilization has tended to liberty, it has been owing partly to greater enlightenment, and partly to the successful struggles of dissent in the war with established opinion.
The questions relating to marriage are wholly undecideable by intuition. The natural impulses are for unlimited co-habitation. The degree of restraint to be put upon this tendency is not indicated by any sentiment that can be discovered in the mind. The case is very peculiar. In thefts and murder, the immediate consequences are injury to some one; in sexual indulgence, the immediate result is agreeable to all concerned. The evils are traceable only in remote consequences, which intuition can know nothing of. It is not to be wondered, therefore, that nations, even highly civilized, have differed widely in their marriage institutions; agreeing only in the propriety of adopting and enforcing some regulations. So essentially has this matter been bound up with the moral code of every society, that a proposed criterion of morality unable to grapple with it, would be discarded as worthless. Yet there is no intuitive sentiment that can be of any avail in the question of marriage with a deceased wife's sister.
9. Fifthly, It is practicable to analyze or resolve the Moral Faculty; and, in so doing, to explain, both its peculiar property, and the similarity of moral judgments so far as existing among men.
We begin, by estimating the operation of (1) Prudence. (2) Sympathy, and (3) the Emotions generally.
The inducements to perform a moral act, as, for example, the fulfilling of a bargain,—are plainly seen to be of various kinds.
(1) Prudence, or Self-interest, has obviously much to do with the moral conduct. Postponing for the present the consideration of Punishment, which is one mode of appeal to the prudential regards, we can trace the workings of self-interest on many occasions wherein men act right. To fulfil a bargain is, in the great majority of cases, for the advantage of the agent; if he fails to perform his part, others may do the same to him.
Our self-interest may look still farther. We may readily discover that if we set an example of injustice, it may be taken up and repeated to such a degree that we can count upon nothing; social security comes to an end, and individual existence, even if possible, would cease to be desirable.
A yet higher view of self-interest informs us, that by performing all our obligations to our fellows, we not only attain reciprocal performance, but generate mutual affections and sympathies, which greatly augment the happiness of life.
(2) Sympathy, or Fellow-feeling, the source of our disinterested actions, must next be taken into the account. It is a consequence of our sympathetic endowment that we revolt from inflicting pain on another, and even forego a certain satisfaction to self rather than be the occasion of suffering to a fellow creature. Moved thus, we perform many obligations on the ground of the misery (not our own) accruing from their neglect.
A considerable portion of human virtue springs directly from this source. If purely disinterested tendencies were withdrawn from the breast, the whole existence of humanity would be changed. Society might not be impossible; there are races where mutual sympathy barely exists: but the fulfilment of obligations, if always dependent on a sense of self-interest, would fail where that was not apparent. On the other hand, if we were on all occasions touched with the unhappiness to others immediately and remotely springing from our conduct—if sympathy were perfect and unfailing—we could hardly ever omit doing what was right.
(3) Our several Emotions or Passions may co-operate with Prudence and with Sympathy in a way to make both the one and the other more efficacious.
Prudence, in the shape of aversion to pain, is rendered more acute when the pain is accompanied with Fear. The perturbation of fear rises up as a deterring motive when dangers loom in the distance. One powerful check to the commission of injury is the retaliation of the sufferer, which is a danger of the vague and illimitable kind, calculated to create alarm.
Anger, or Resentment, also enters, in various ways, into our moral impulses. In one shape it has just been noticed. In concurrence with Self-interest and Sympathy, it heightens the feeling of reprobation against wrong-doers.
The Tender Emotion, and the Affections, uphold us in the performance of our duties to others, being an additional safeguard against injury to the objects of the feelings. It has already been shown how these emotions, while tending to coalesce with Sympathy proper, are yet distinguished from it.
The AEsthetic Emotions have important bearings upon Ethical Sentiment. As a whole, they are favourable to human virtue, being non-exclusive pleasures. They, however, give a bias to the formation of moral rules, and pervert the proper test of right and wrong in a manner to be afterwards explained.
10. Although Prudence and Sympathy, and the various Emotions named, are powerful inducements to what is right in action, and although, without these, right would not prevail among mankind, yet they do not stamp the peculiar attribute of Rightness. For this, we must refer to the institution of Government, or Authority.
Although the force of these various motives on the side of right is all-powerful and essential, so much so, that without them morality would be impossible, they do not, of themselves, impart the character of a moral act. We do not always feel that, because we have neglected our interest or violated our sympathies, we have on that account done wrong. The criterion of rightness in particular cases is something different.
The reasons are apparent. For although prudence, as regards self, and sympathy or fellow-feeling, as regards others, would comprehend all the interests of mankind—everything that morality can desire to accomplish—nevertheless, the acting out of these impulses by each individual at random would not suffice for the exigencies of human life. They must be regulated, directed, reconciled by society at large; each person must be made to work upon the same plan as every other person. This leads to the institution of Government and Authority, with the correlatives of Law, Obligation, and Punishment. Our natural impulses for good are now directed into an artificial channel, and it is no longer optional whether they shall fall into that channel. The nature of the case requires all to conform alike to the general arrangements, and whoever is not sufficiently urged by the natural motives, is brought under the spur of a new kind of prudential motive—Punishment.
Government, Authority, Law, Obligation, Punishment, are all implicated in the same great Institution of Society, to which Morality owes its chief foundation, and the Moral Sentiment its special attribute. Morality is not Prudence, nor Benevolence, in their primitive or spontaneous manifestations; it is the systematic codification of prudential and benevolent actions, rendered obligatory by what is termed penalties or Punishment; an entirely distinct motive, artificially framed by human society, but made so familiar to every member of society as to be a second nature. None are allowed to be prudential or sympathizing in their own way. Parents are compelled to nourish their own children; servants to obey their own masters, to the neglect of other regards; all citizens have to abide by the awards of authority; bargains are to be fulfilled according to a prescribed form and letter; truth is to be spoken on certain definite occasions, and not on others. In a formed society, the very best impulses of nature fail to guide the citizen's actions. No doubt there ought to be a general coincidence between what Prudence and Sympathy would dictate, and what Law dictates; but the precise adjustment is a matter of institution. A moral act is not merely an act tending to reconcile the good of the agent with the good of the whole society; it is an act, prescribed by the social authority, and rendered obligatory upon every citizen. Its morality is constituted by its authoritative prescription, and not by its fulfilling the primary ends of the social institution. A bad law is still a law; an ill-judged moral precept is still a moral precept, felt as such by every loyal citizen.