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A Handbook of Ethical Theory By George Stuart Fullerton Characters: 11845

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Men of quite varying views have inclined to the doctrine which appeals to me. I think it is to be gotten out of Hegel. Green, who is much influenced by him, takes, as the rational end of conduct, a "satisfaction on the whole," which implies a harmonization and unification of the desires (see, in this book, Chapter XXVI, Sec 122). Spencer, in his Study of Sociology, defines the rational as the consistent. Stephen, in his Science of Ethics, chapter ii, Sec 3, says: "Reason, in short, whatever its nature, is the faculty which enables us to act with a view to the distant and the future." He claims that rationality tends to bring about a certain unity or harmony. Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution, (pp. 572-581), says that reason harmonizes the impulses.

The champions of the opposite view are the intuitionists proper-such men as Kant, Reid, Price, even Sidgwick. To judge of their doctrine-they were great men, be it remembered, and worthy of all respect-I suggest that the reader wait until he has read the chapter on Intuitionism in this volume, Chapter XXIII.

5. CHAPTERS XVII TO XIX.-What is said in Chapter XVII seems too obviously true to need comment. Indeed, it may be questioned whether the chapter is not full of platitudes. But even platitudes are overlooked by some; and there is some merit in arranging them systematically. Besides, they may serve as a spring-board.

As to Chapter XVIII, I suggest reading chapter vii, of Westermarck's book on The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas. It is entitled Customs and Laws as Expressions of Moral Ideas.

For Chapter XIX, one may read Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution, Part I, chapter vi, where he shows how the mere "group morality" gradually gives place to a wider morality in which the concept of humanity plays a part. In the same work, Part II, chapters i and ii, the author treats of religious or sub-religious ideas as affecting conduct. Compare Westermarck, op. cit., chapter xl. See, also, The Ancient City, by Fustel de Coulanges.

6. CHAPTERS XX TO XXII.-What is said in Chapter XX may be well reinforced by turning to Hobhouse (op. cit.), Part I, chapter iii, where he traces the gradual evolution of rational morality in the field of justice. See, also, Westermarck, (op. cit.) chapters ix and x, i. e., "The Will as the Subject of Moral Judgment and the Influence of External Events," and "Agents under Intellectual Disability." In the last chapter referred to, animals, drunkards, idiots, the insane, etc., come on the stage. The chapter is full of curious information.

In Chapter XXI (Sec 86), I have spoken of the hesitating utterances of moralists touching any duties we may owe to the brutes. I suggest that before anyone dogmatize in detail on this subject he read with some care such a comprehensive work as Miss Washburn's The Animal Mind. The book is admirable. Chapters x and xliv of Westermarck's work are instructive and entertaining on this subject. Hegel disposes of the animals rather summarily. See his Philosophy of Right, Sec 47. Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, Book III, chapter iv, 2, is well worth consulting. See in my own volume, Chapter XXX, Sec 141.

For Chapter XXII, I give no references. I appeal only to the common sense of my reader.

7. Chapters XXIII to XXIX.-For the chapters on the Schools of the Moralists, XXIII to XXIX, I shall give briefer notes than I should have given, were the chapters not already so well provided with foot-notes.

So far as the first four of these chapters are concerned, I shall assume that enough has been said, drawing attention only to two points which concern Chapter XXIII.

It is very interesting to note that one of our best critics of intuitionism, Hemy Sidgwick, was himself an intuitionist. His Methods of Ethics deserves very close attention. Again Intuitions are often spoken of as if they had been shot out of a pistol, and had neither father nor mother. To understand them better it is only necessary to read chapter viii of Dr. H. R. Marshall's little book, Mind and Conduct, which shows how difficult it is to mark intuitions off sharply, and to treat them as if they had nothing in common with reason.

Those interested in the ethics of evolution, treated in Chapter XXVII, should not miss reading the fourth chapter of Darwin's Descent of Man. Huxley's essay, Evolution and Ethics, might be read. The "Prolegomena" to the essay is, however, much more valuable than the essay itself. Spencer's general theory of conduct is best gathered from his Data of Ethics, which was reprinted as Part I of his Principles of Ethics. The volume by C. M. Williams, entitled, A Review of Evolutionary Ethics, gives a convenient account of a dozen or more writers who have treated of ethics from the evolutionary standpoint. It is well not to overlook what Sidgwick has to say of evolution and ethics; see The Methods of Ethics, Book I, chapter ii, Sec 2.

As for Chapter XXVIII, on "Pessimism," it is enough, I think, to refer the reader to Book IV, in Schopenhauer's work on The World as Will and Idea. The Book is entitled The Assertion and Denial of the Will to Live, where Self-consciousness has been Attained. See also his supplementary chapters, xlvi, on "The Vanity and Suffering of Life," and xlviii, "On the Doctrine of the Denial of the Will to Live." For the doctrine of von Hartmann, see chapters xiii to xv, in the part of his work entitled, The Metaphysic of the Unconscious.

For the chapter on Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche, I shall give but a few references, though the literature on these writers is enormous. The English reader will find T. K. Abbott's translation of Kant's ethical writings a very convenient volume (third edition, London, 1883). The translation of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, by S. W. Dyde (1896), I have found good, where I have compared it with the original. The word "Right" in the title is unavoidably ambiguous,

for the German word means both "right" and "law." Hegel is dealing, in a sense, with both. I have indicated, in a foot-note, that Nietzsche ought to be read in the original. He is a marvellous artist.

Perhaps I should add that Nietzsche will be read with most pleasure by those who do not attempt to find in his works a system of ethics. I recommend to the reader, especially, his three volumes: The Genealogy of Morals; Beyond Good and Evil; and Thus Spake Zarathustra; (New York, 1911).

8. CHAPTERS XXX TO XXXVI.-I shall not comment on Chapter XXX. It is sufficiently interpreted by what has been said earlier in this book. Nor do I think that Chapter XXXI needs to be discussed here. I need only say that many moralists have commented upon the negative aspect of the moral law. It will be remembered that the "demon" of Socrates-a dreadful translation-was a negative sign. I do not think that those who have dwelt upon the negative aspect of morality have reflected sufficiently upon the moral organization of society. We are put to school unavoidably as soon as we are born.

I shall not dwell upon Chapters XXXII and XXXIII. Here I appeal merely to the good sense of the reader.

But Chapter XXXIV demands more attention. He who is ignorant of history, and has come into no close contact with the organization and functioning of any state other than his own, is as unfit to pass judgment upon states generally, as is the man who has never been away from his native village to pass judgment upon towns generally-towns inhabited by various peoples and situated in different quarters of the globe. His lot may, it is true, happen to be cast in a good village; but how he is to tell that it is good, I cannot conceive. He has no standard of comparison.

Fortunately, his ignorance is not as harmful as it might be. The Rational Social Will, which is penetrated through and through with traditions wiser than the whims of the individual, carries him along upon its broad bosom, and makes decisions for him.

The sociologist and the political philosopher should be consulted, as well as the historian, by one who would make a satisfactory list of books touching the subject of this chapter. But the moralist may be allowed to suggest a few titles, some of them very old ones. Plato's Republic is fascinating, and Aristotle's Politics is the shrewdest of books. But compare the state as conceived by these men with our notions of a modern democracy! More's Utopia is a delight. To get back to earth and see what history means to a state, and to its constitution and laws, read Sir Henry Maine's Ancient Law. States are not made in a day, although, under abnormal conditions, governments may be upset, and new ones set up, within twenty-four hours. After such unhistorical proceedings, one can scarcely expect "fast colors." One or two washings will suffice to show what was there before.

He who has a weakness for the operatic can peruse Rousseau's Social Contract and the Declaration of the Rights of Man published in the great French Revolution. As an antidote, I suggest Bentham's essay on Anarchical Fallacies.

But reading will do little good-even historical reading-unless one also thinks. It is wonderful how much knowledge a man may escape, if he is born under the proper star. I once knew an undergraduate in an American university, who attended compulsory chapel for more than three years, and who still thought that the Old Testament was a history of the Ancient Romans.

There is quite too much to say about Chapters XXXV and XXXVI. The only thing to do is to say nothing. I shall touch upon just one point in each chapter. I venture to beg the teacher, when he treats of International Ethics, to read in class, with his students, those pages in which Sir Thomas More describes the principles upon which the Utopians conducted their wars. Remember that Sir Thomas was not merely a statesman, but, by common consent, a learned, a great, and a good man. Mark the reaction of the undergraduate mind.

The one matter upon which I shall comment in Chapter XXXVI, is the question of belief as an object of approval or of censure. Westermarck states (The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, Volume I, chapter viii, p. 216), that neither the Catholic nor the Protestant Church regarded belief, as such, as an object of censure. Yet each was willing to punish heresy. The point is most interesting, and I hazard an explanation. The churches were organizations with a definite object. They made use of reward and punishment. This was reasonable enough, abstractly considered. However, doctrine was the affair of the theologian. Now the theologian, like the philosopher, is a man who assumes that he is concerned with proofs, and with proofs only. If a thing is proved, how can a man help believing it? Only if he will not, which is sheer obstinacy or perversity. Let him, then, be punished on account of his defective character (see Westermarck, I, chapter xi, p. 283).

I think the apparent quibbling here can be gotten rid of by recognizing the truth emphasized in Sec Sec 167-168, namely, that logical proofs play but a subordinate part in the adoption or rejection of beliefs touching a vast number of matters both secular and religious. If we can influence men's emotions, we can influence their beliefs. Both State and Church have this power. It is a power that can be abused. But it is, on the whole, a good thing that men's beliefs can thus be influenced. There would be no stability in human society could they not. Every ignorant man-and many men are ignorant-would be at the mercy of every clever talker; and he would change his beliefs every day. As men act on beliefs, this means that he would zig-zag through life to the detriment of all orderly development. I beg the reader, learned or unlearned, to put aside prepossessions, and to look at things as they are in this field.

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