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Moral Science; A Compendium of Ethics by Alexander Bain

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a truly moral state--must from general ideas rise to ideas that are
universal and absolute. There is no real equation, he holds, between
Good and the satisfaction of the primitive tendencies, which is the
good of egoism. Not till the special ends of all creatures are regarded
as elements of one great End of creation, of Universal Order, do we
obtain an idea whose equivalence to the idea of the Good requires no
proof. The special ends are good, because, through their realization,
the end of creation, which is the absolute Good, is realized; hence
they acquire the sacred character that it has in the eye of reason.

No sooner is the idea of Universal Order present to the reason, than it
is recognized as an absolute law; and, in consequence, the special end
of our being, by participation in its character of goodness and
sacredness, is henceforth pursued as a duty, and its satisfaction
claimed as a right. Also every creature assumes the same position, and
we no longer merely concede that others have tendencies to be
satisfied, and consent from Sympathy or Egoism to promote their good;
but the idea of Universal Order makes it as much our duty to respect
and contribute to the accomplishment of their good as to accomplish our
own. From the idea of good-in-itself, i.e., Order, flow all duty,
right, obligation, morality, and natural legislation.

He carries the idea of Order still farther back to the Deity, making it
the expression of the divine thought, and opening up the religious side
of morality; but he does not mean that its obligatoriness as regards
the reason is thereby increased. He also identifies it, in the last
resort, with the ideas of the Beautiful and the True.

We have now reached the truly moral condition, a state perfectly
distinct from either of the foregoing. Even when the egoistic and the
moral determination prescribe the same conduct, the one only counsels,
while the other obliges. The one, having in view only the greatest
satisfaction of our nature, is personal even when counselling benefits
to others; the other regarding only the law of Order, something
distinct from self, is impersonal, even when prescribing our own good.
Hence there is in the latter case _devouement_ of self to something
else, and it is exactly the _devouement_ to a something that is not
self, but is regarded as good, that gets the name of virtue or moral
good. Moral good is voluntary and intelligent obedience to the law that
is the rule of our conduct. As an additional distinction between the
egoistic and the moral determination, he mentions the judgment of merit
or demerit that ensues upon actions when, and only when, they have a
moral character. No remorse follows an act of mere imprudence involving
no violation of universal order.

He denies that there is any real contradiction among the three
different determinations. Nothing is prescribed in the moral law that
is not also in accordance with some primitive tendency, and with
self-interest rightly understood; if it were not so, it would go hard
with virtue. On the other hand, if everything not done from regard to
duty were opposed to moral law and order, society could not only not
subsist, but would never have been formed. When a struggle does ensue
between passion and self-interest, passion is blind; when between
egoism and the moral determination, egoism is at fault. It is in the
true interest of Passion to be sacrificed to Egoism, and of Egoism to
be sacrificed to Order.

He closes the review of the various moral facts by explaining in what
sense the succession of the three states is to be understood. The state
of Passion is historically first, but the Egoistic and the Moral states
are not so sharply defined. As soon as reason dawns it introduces the
moral motive as well as the egoistic, and to this extent the two states
are contemporaneous. Only, so far is the moral law from being at this
stage fully conceived, that, in the majority of men, it is never
conceived in its full clearness at all. Their confused idea of moral
law is the so-called moral _conscience_, which works more like a sense
or an instinct, and is inferior to the clear rational conception in
everything except that it conveys the full force of obligation. In its
grades of guilt human justice rightly makes allowance for different
degrees of intelligence. The Egoistic determination and the Moral
state, such as it is, once developed, passion is not to be supposed
abolished, but henceforth what really takes place in all is a perpetual
alternation of the various states. Yet though no man is able
exclusively to follow the moral determination, and no man will
constantly be under the influence of any one of the motives, there is
one motive commonly uppermost whereby each can be characterized. Thus
men, according to their habitual conduct, are known as passionate,
egoistic, or virtuous.

We now summarize the opinions of Jouffroy:--

I.--The Standard is the Idea of Absolute Good or Universal Order in the
sense explained by the author. Like Cousin, he identifies the 'good'
with the 'true.' What, then, is the criterion that distinguishes moral
from other truths? If _obligation_ be selected as the _differentia_, it
is in effect to give up the attempt to determine what truths are
obligatory. The idea of 'good' is obviously too vague to be a
_differentia_. How far the idea of 'Universal Order' gets us out of the
difficulty may be doubted, especially after the candid admission of the
author, that it is an idea of which the majority of men have never any
very clear notions.

II.--The moral faculty is Reason; Conscience is hardly more than a
confused feeling of obligatoriness.

Sympathy is one of the primitive tendencies of our nature. Jouffroy's
opinion on the subject is open to the objections urged against Butler's

He upholds the freedom of the Will, but embarrasses his argument by
admitting, like Reid, that there is a stage in our existence when we
are ruled by the passions, and are destitute of liberty.

III.--The Summum Bonum is the _end_ of every creature; the passions
ought to be subordinated to self-interest, and self-interest to

In regard to the other points, it is unnecessary to continue the


[Footnote 1: Duties strictly so called, the department of obligatory
morality, enforced by punishment, may be exemplified in the following
classified summary:--

Under the Legal Sanction, are included; (A) Forbearance from
(specified) injuries; as (a) Intentional injury--crimes, (b) Injury not
intentional--wrongs, repaired by Damages or Compensation. (B) The
rendering of services; (a) Fulfilling contracts or agreements; (b)
Reciprocating anterior services rendered, though, not requested, as in
filial duty; (c) Cases of extreme or superior need, as parental duty,
relief of destitution.

Under the Popular Sanction are created duties on such points as the
following:--(1) The Etiquette of small societies or coteries. (2)
Religious orthodoxy; Sabbath observance. (3) Unchastity; violations of
the etiquette of the sexes, Immodesty, and whatever endangers chastity,
especially in women. (4) Duties of parents to children, and of children
to parents, beyond the requirements of the law. (5) Suicide: when only
attempted, the individual is punished, when carried out, the relatives.
(6) Drunkenness, and neglect of the means of self-support. (7) Gross
Inhumanity. In all these cases the sanction, or punishment, is social;
and is either mere disapprobation or dislike, not issuing in overt
acts, or exclusion from fellowship and the good offices consequent

[Footnote 2: Optional Morality, the Morality of Reward, is exemplified
as follows:--

(A) A liberal performance of duties properly so called. (_a_) The
support of aged parents; this, though to a certain extent a legal duty,
is still more a virtue, being stimulated by the approbation of one's
fellows. The performance of the family duties generally is the subject
of commendation. (_b_) The payment of debts that cannot be legally
recovered, as in the case of bankrupts after receiving their discharge.

These examples typify cases (1) where no definite law is laid down, or
where the law is content with a minimum; and (2) where the law is
restrained by its rules of evidence or procedure. Society, in such
cases, steps in and supplies a motive in the shape of reward.

(B) Pure Virtue, or Beneficence; all actions for the benefit of others
without stipulation, and without reward; relief of distress, promotion
of the good of individuals or of society at large. The highest honours
of society are called into exercise by the highest services.

Bentham's principle of the claims of superior need cannot be fully
carried out, (although he conceives it might, in some cases), by either
the legal or the popular sanction. Thus, the act of the good Samaritan,
the rescue of a ship's crew from drowning, could not be exacted; the
law cannot require heroism. It is of importance to remark, that
although Duty and Nobleness, Punishment and Reward, are in their
extremes unmistakably contrasted, yet there may be a margin of doubt or
ambiguity (like the passing of day into night). Thus, expressed
approbation, generally speaking, belongs to Reward; yet, if it has
become a thing of course, the withholding of it operates as a
Punishment or a Penalty.]

[Footnote 3: The conditions that regulate the authoritative enforcement
of actions, are exhaustively given in works on Jurisprudence, but they
do not all concern Ethical Theory. The expedience of imposing a rule
depends on the importance of the object compared with the cost of the
machinery. A certain line of conduct may be highly beneficial, but may
not be a fit case for coercion. For example, the law can enforce only a
_minimum_ of service: now, if the case be such, that a minimum is
useless, as in helping a ship in distress, or in supporting aged
parents, it is much, better to leave the case to voluntary impulses,
seconded by approbation or reward. Again, an offence punished by law
must be, in its nature, definable; which, makes a difficulty in such
cases as insult, and defamation, and many species of fraud. Farther,
the offence must be easy of detection, so that the vast majority of
offenders may not escape. This limits the action of the law in

[Footnote 4: See, on the method of Sokrates, Appendix A.]

[Footnote 5: In setting forth, the Ethical End, the language of
Sokrates was not always consistent. He sometimes stated it, as if it
included an independent reference to the happiness of others; at other
times, he speaks as if the end was the agent's own happiness, to which,
the happiness of others was the greatest and most essential means. The
first view, although not always adhered to, prevails in Xenophon; the
second appears most in Plato.]

[Footnote 6: 'What Plato here calls the Knowledge of Good, or
Reason,--the just discrimination and comparative appreciation, of Ends
and Means--appears in the Politikus and the Euthydemus, under the title
of the Regal or Political Art, as employing or directing the results of
all other arts, which are considered as subordinate: in the Protagoras,
under the title of art of calculation or mensuration: in the Philebus,
as measure and proportion: in the Phaedrus (in regard to rhetoric) as
the art of turning to account, for the main purpose of persuasion, all
the special processes, stratagems, decorations, &c., imparted by
professional masters. In the Republic, it is personified in the few
venerable Elders who constitute the Reason of the society, and whose
directions all the rest (Guardians and Producers) arc bound implicitly
to follow: the virtue of the subordinates consisting in this implicit
obedience. In the Leges, it is defined as the complete subjection in
the mind, of pleasures and pains to right Reason, without which, no
special aptitudes are worth, having. In the Xenophontic Memorabilia, it
stands as a Sokratic authority under the title of Sophrosyne or
Temperance: and the Profitable is declared identical with, the Good, as
the directing and limiting principle for all human pursuits and
proceedings.' (Grote's Plato, I., 362.)]

[Footnote 7: 'Indeed there is nothing more remarkable in the Gorgias,
than the manner in which. Sokrates not only condemns the unmeasured,
exorbitant, maleficent desires, but also depreciates and degrades all
the actualities of life--all the recreative and elegant arts, including
music and poetry, tragic as well as dithyrambic--all provision for the
most essential wants, all protection against particular sufferings and
dangers, even all service rendered to another person in the way of
relief or of rescue--all the effective maintenance of public organized
force, such as ships, docks, walls, arms, &c. Immediate satisfaction,
or relief, and those who confer it, are treated with contempt, and
presented as in hostility to the perfection of the mental structure.
And it is in this point of view, that various Platonic commentators
extol in an especial manner the Gorgias: as recognizing an Idea of Good
superhuman and supernatural, radically disparate from pleasures and
pains of any human being, and incommensurable with, them; an Universal
Idea, which, though it is supposed to cast a distant light upon its
particulars, is separated from them by an incalculable space, and is
discernible only by the Platonic telescope.' (Grote, _Gorgias_)]

[Footnote 8: There is some analogy between the above doctrine and the
great law of Self-conservation, as expounded in this volume (p. 75).]

[Footnote 9: Aristotle and the Peripatetics held that there were _tria
genera bonorum_: (1) Those of the mind _(mens sana)_, (2) those of the
body, and (3) external advantages. The Stoics altered this theory by
saying that only the first of the three was _bonum_; the others were
merely _praeposita_ or _sumenda_. The opponents of the Stoics contended
that this was an alteration in words rather than in substance.]

[Footnote 10: This also might truly be said of the Epicureans; though
with them it is not so much _pride_, as a quiet self-satisfaction in
escaping pains and disappointments that they saw others enduring. See
the beginning of Lucretius' second book, and the last epistle of
Epicurus to Idomeneus.]

[Footnote 11: This was a later development of Stoicism: the earlier
theorists laid it down that there were no graduating marks below the
level of wisdom; all shortcomings were on a par. _Good_ was a point,
_Evil_ was a point; there were gradations in the _praeposita_ or
_sumenda_ (none of which were _good_), and in the _rejecta_ or
_rejicienda_ (none of which were _evil_), but there was no _more or
less good_. The idea of advance by steps towards virtue or wisdom, was
probably familiar to Sokrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus; the
Stoic theories, on the other hand, tended to throw it out of sight,
though they insisted strenuously on the necessity of mental training
and meditation.]

[Footnote 12: This theory (taken in its most general sense, and apart
from differences in the estimation of particular pleasures and pains),
had been proclaimed long before the time of Epicurus. It is one of the
various theories of Plato: for in his dialogue called Protagoras
(though in other dialogues he reasons differently) we find it
explicitly set forth and elaborately vindicated by his principal
spokesman, Sokrates, against the Sophist Protagoras. It was also held
by Aristippus (companion of Sokrates along with Plato) and by his
followers after him, called the Cyrenaics. Lastly, it was maintained by
Eudoxus, one of the most estimable philosophers contemporary with
Aristotle. Epicurus was thus in no way the originator of the theory:
but he had his own way of conceiving it--his own body of doctrine
physical, cosmological, and theological, with which it was
implicated--and his own comparative valuation of pleasures and pains.]

[Footnote 13: The soul, according to Epicurus, was a subtle but
energetic compound (of air, vapour, heat, and another nameless
ingredient), with its best parts concentrated in the chest, yet
pervading and sustaining the whole body; still, however, depending for
its support on the body, and incapable of separate or disembodied

[Footnote 14: Aristot. De Coelo. II.a.12, p. 292, 22, 6, _5_. In the
Ethics, Aristotle assigns theorizing contemplation to the gods, as the
only process worthy of their exalted dignity and supreme felicity.]

[Footnote 15: Xenophon Memor. I. 1--10; IV. 3--12.]

[Footnote 16: These exhortations to active friendship were not
unfruitful. We know, even by the admission of witnesses adverse to the
Epicurean doctrines, that the harmony among the members of the sect,
with common veneration for the founder, was more marked and more
enduring than that exhibited by any of the other philosophical sects.
Epicurus himself was a man of amiable personal qualities: his
testament, still remaining, shows an affectionate regard, both for his
surviving friends, and for the permanent attachment of each, to the
others, as well as of all to the school. Diogenes Laertius tells
us--nearly 200 years after Christ, and 450 years after the death of
Epicurus--that the Epicurean sect still continued its numbers and
dignity, having outlasted its contemporaries and rivals. The harmony
among the Epicureans may be explained, not merely from the temper of
the master, but partly from the doctrines and plan of life that he
recommended. Ambition and love of power were discouraged: rivalry among
the members for success, either political or rhetorical, was at any
rate a rare exception: all were taught to confine themselves to that
privacy of life and love of philosophical communion, which alike
required and nourished the mutual sympathies of the brotherhood.]

[Footnote 17: Consistently with this view of happiness, Epicurus
advised, in regard to politics, quiet submission, to established
authority, without active meddling beyond what necessity required.]

[Footnote 18: Locke examines the Innate Principles put forth, by Lord
Herbert in his book _De Veritate_, 1st, There is a supreme governor of
the world; 2nd, Worship is due to him; 3rd, Virtue, joined with Piety,
is the best Worship; 4th, Men must repent of their sins; 5th, There
will be a future life of rewards and punishments. Locke admits these to
be such truths as a rational creature, after due explanation given
them, can hardly avoid attending to; but he will not allow them to be
innate. For, First, There are other propositions with, as good a claim
as these to be of the number imprinted by nature on the mind.

Secondly, The marks assigned are not found in all the propositions.
Many men, and even whole nations, disbelieve some of them.

Then, as to the third principle,--virtue, joined with piety, is the
best worship of God; he cannot see how it can be innate, seeing that it
contains a name, virtue, of the greatest possible uncertainty of
meaning. For, if virtue be taken, as commonly it is, to denote the
actions accounted laudable in particular countries, then the
proposition will be untrue. Or, if it is taken to mean accordance with
God's will, it will then be true, but unmeaning; that God will be
pleased with what he commands is an identical assertion, of no use to
any one.

So the fourth proposition,--men must repent of their sins,--is open to
the same remark. It is not possible that God should engrave on men's
minds principles couched on such uncertain words as Virtue and Sin.
Nay more, as a general word is nothing in itself, but only report as to
particular facts, the knowledge of rules is a knowledge of a sufficient
number of actions to determine the rule. [Innate principles are not
compatible with Nominalism.]

According to Lord Herbert, the standard of virtue is the _common
notions_ in which, all men agree. They are such, as the following,--to
avoid evil, to be temperate, in doubtful cases to choose the safer
course, not to do to others what you would not wish done to yourself,
to be grateful to benefactors, &c. _Conscience_ is what teaches us to
carry out those principles in practice. It excites joy over good
actions, and produces abhorrence and repentance for bad. Upon it, our
repentance of mind and eternal welfare depend. (For an account of Lord
Herbert's common notions, see Appendix B., Lord Herbert of Cherbury.)]

[Footnote 19: In this respect, Butler differs from both Shaftesbury and
Hutcheson. With Shaftesbury, the main function of the moral sense is to
smile approval on benevolent affections, by which an additional
pleasure is thrown into the scale against the selfish affections. The
superiority of the 'natural affections' thus depends on a double
pleasure, their intrinsically pleasureable character, and the
superadded pleasure of reflection. The tendency of Shaftesbury is here
to make benevolence and virtue identical, and at the same time to
impair the disinterested character of benevolence.]

[Footnote 20: With this view, we may compare the psychology of
Shaftesbury, set forth in his 'Characteristics of Men, Manners, and
Times.' The soul has two kinds of affections--(1) _Self-affection_,
leading to the 'good of the private,' such as love of life, revenge,
pleasure or aptitude towards nourishment and the means of generation,
emulation or love of praise, indolence; and (2) _Natural affections_,
leading to the good of the public. The natural or spontaneous
predominance of benevolence is _goodness_; the subjection of the
selfish by effort and training is _virtue_. Virtue consists generally
in the proper exercise of the several affections.]

[Footnote 21: Butler's definition of conscience, and his whole
treatment of it, have created a great puzzle of classification, as to
whether he is to be placed along with the upholders of a 'moral sense.'
Shaftesbury is more explicit:

'No sooner does the eye open upon figures, the ear to sounds, than
straight the Beautiful results, and grace and harmony are known and
acknowledged. No sooner are _actions_ viewed, no sooner the human
affections discerned (and they are, most of them, as soon discerned as
felt), than straight an inward eye distinguishes the _fair_ and
_shapely_, the _amiable_ and _admirable_, apart from the _deformed_,
the _foul_, the _odious_, or the _despicable_' 'In a creature capable
of forming general notions of things, not only the outward beings which
offer themselves to the sense, are the objects of the affections, but
the very actions themselves, and the affections of pity, kindness, and
gratitude, and their contraries, being brought into the mind by
reflection, become objects. So that, by means of this _reflected
sense_, there arises another kind of affection towards these affections
themselves, which have been already felt, and are now become the
subject of a new liking or dislike.' What this 'moral sense' approves
is benevolence, and when its approval has been acted upon, by
subjecting the selfish affections, 'virtue' is attained.]

[Footnote 22: It is instructive to compare Mandeville's _a priori_
guesses with, the results of Mr. Maine's historical investigation into
the condition of early societies. The evidence shows that society
originated in the family system. Mandeville conjectured that solitary
families would never attain to government; but Mr. Maine considers that
there was a complete despotic government in single families. 'They have
neither assemblies for consultation nor _themistes_, but every one
exercises jurisdiction over his wives and children, and they pay no
regard to one another.' The next stage is the rise of _gentes_ and
tribes, which took place probably when a family held together instead
of separating on the death of the patriarch. The features of this state
were chieftainship and _themistes_, that is, government not by laws,
but by _ex post facto_ decisions upon cases as they arose. This
gradually developed into customary law, which was in its turn
superseded, on the invention of writing, by written codes. Maine's
Ancient Law, Chap. V.]

[Footnote 23: It is perhaps worth while to quote a sentence or two,
giving the author's opinion on the theory of the Moral Sense. 'Against
every account of the principle of approbation, which makes it depend
upon a peculiar sentiment, distinct from every other, I would object,
that it is strange that this sentiment, which Providence undoubtedly
intended to be the governing principle of human nature, should,
hitherto have been so little taken notice of, as not to have got a name
in any language. The word Moral Sense is of very late formation, and
cannot yet be considered as making part of the English tongue. The word
approbation has but within these few years been appropriated to denote
peculiarly anything of this kind. In propriety of language we approve
of whatever is entirely to our satisfaction--of the form of a building,
of the contrivance of a machine, of the flavour of a dish of meat. The
word conscience does not immediately denote any moral faculty by which
we approve or disapprove. Conscience supposes, indeed, the existence of
some such faculty, and properly signifies our consciousness of having
acted agreeably or contrary to its directions. When love, hatred, joy,
sorrow, gratitude, resentment, with so many other passions which are
all supposed to be the subjects of this principle, have made themselves
considerable enough to get titles to know them by, is it not surprising
that the sovereign of them all should hitherto have been so little
heeded; that, a few philosophers excepted, nobody has yet thought it
worth while to bestow a name upon it?']

[Footnote 24: ADAM FERGUSON (1724-1816), is not of sufficient
importance in purely Ethical theory to demand a full abstract. The
following remark on his views is made by Professor Veitch:--'Ferguson,
while holding-with Reid that the notion of Rightness is not resolvable
into utility, or to be derived from sympathy or a moral sense, goes a
step beyond both. Reid and Stewart in the inquiry which he raises
regarding the definite nature and ground of Rightness itself.' The
following is his definition of Moral Good:--'Moral good is the specific
excellence and felicity of human nature, and moral depravity its
specific defect and wretchedness.' The 'excellence' of human nature
consists in four things, drawn out after the analogy of the cardinal
virtues: (1) _Skill_ (Wisdom); (2) _Benevolence_, the principal
excellence of a creature destined to perform a part in social life
(Justice); (3) _Application of mind_ (Temperance); (4) _Force_, or
energy to overcome obstacles (Fortitude). Regarding the _motives_ to
virtue, either virtue is its own reward, or divine rewards and
punishments constitute a sanction; but, in any case, the motive is our
own happiness. All the virtues enumerated are themselves useful or
pleasant, but, over and above, they give rise to an additional
pleasure, when they are made the subject of reflection.]

[Footnote 25: 'The theory which, places the standard of morality in the
_Divine nature_ must not be confounded with that which, places it in
the arbitrary will of God. God did not create morality by his will; it
is inherent in his nature, and co-eternal with himself; nor can he be
conceived as capable of reversing it.' The distinction here drawn does
not avoid the fatal objection to the simpler theory, namely, that it
takes away the moral character of God. The acts of a sovereign cannot,
with, any propriety, as Austin has shown, be termed either legal or
illegal; in like manner, if God is a moral lawgiver, if 'he is
accountable to no one,' then 'his duty and his pleasure are
undistinguishable from each other,' and he cannot without
self-contradiction be called a moral being. Even upon Mr. Mansel's own
theory, it is hardly correct to say that 'God did not create morality
by his will.' Morality involves two elements--one, rules of conduct,
the other, an obligation to observe them. Now, the authority or
obligatoriness of moral laws has been made to depend upon the will of
God, so that, prior to that will, morality could not exist. Hence the
only part of morality that can be co-eternal with God, is simply the
rules of morality, without their obligatoriness, the salt without its
savour. The closing assertion that God cannot reverse morality, may
mean either that it would be inconsistent with his immutability to
reverse the laws he had himself established, or that he is compelled by
his nature to impose certain rules, and no others. The first
supposition is a truism; the second is not proved. For, since Mr.
Mansel has discarded as a fiction any 'absolute law of duty,' it is
hard to conjecture whence he could derive any compulsory choice of
rules. Why God commands some things in preference to others--whether
from a regard to the happiness of all his creatures, or of some only;
whether with, a view to his own glory, or from conformity with some
abstract notion--has been much disputed, and it is quite _conceivable_
that he may not adopt any of those objects.]

[Footnote 26: For help in understanding Kant's peculiar phraseology and
general point of view, the reader is referred to the short exposition
of his Speculative Philosophy in Appendix B.]

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