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Progressive Morality by Thomas Fowler

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advanced stage of morality, when the more fundamental principles have
been already settled, it is still open to us to make.

It remains now to enquire what is the justification of the test
propounded in this chapter. I do not found it on any external
considerations, whether of Law or Revelation, both of which, I conceive,
presuppose morality, but on the very make and constitution of our
nature. The justification of the moral test and the source of the moral
feeling are alike, I conceive, to be discovered by an examination of
human nature, and, so far as that nature has a divine origin, so far is
the origin of morality divine. Whatever the ultimate source of morality
may be, to us, at all events, it can only be known as revealed or
reflected in ourselves. What, then, is it in the constitution of our
nature, which leads us to aim at the well-being of ourselves and those
around us, and to measure our own conduct and that of others by the
extent to which it promotes these ends? In answering this question, I
must give a brief account of the ultimate principles of human nature,
though this account has been partly anticipated in the last chapter.
Human nature, in its last analysis, seems, so far as it is concerned
with action, to consist of certain impulses or feelings, and a power of
comparing with one another the results which follow from the
gratification of these feelings, which power reacts upon the several
feelings themselves by way of intensifying, checking, or controlling
them. This power we call Reason. The feelings themselves fall into two
principal groups, the egoistic or self-regarding feelings, which centre
in a man's self, and are developed by his personal needs, and the
altruistic or sympathetic feelings, which centre in others and are
developed by the social surroundings in which he finds himself placed.
These two groups of feelings, I conceive, were independent of one
another from the first, or at least as soon as man could be called man,
and neither of them admits of being resolved into the other. As the one
was developed by and adapted to personal needs, so the other was
developed by and adapted to the manifold requirements of family or
tribal life, which, from the first, was inseparable from the life of the
individual. Intermediate between these two groups of feelings, the
purely self-regarding and the purely sympathetic, and derived probably
from the interaction of both, is another group, which may be called the
semi-social group. This group includes shame, love of reputation, love
of notoriety, desire of fame, and the like, but, on analysis, it will be
found that all these feelings admit of being referred to two heads, the
love of approbation and the fear of disapprobation. Lastly, if any of
our desires or feelings are thwarted by the intentional action of other
men, the result in our minds is a feeling which we call Resentment, and
which, though it regards others, is, unlike the sympathetic feelings, a
malevolent and not a benevolent feeling. It is important, in considering
the economy of human nature, to notice that Resentment, as is also the
case with the love of cruelty, is a secondary not a primary, a derived
not an original affection of our minds; for, apart from the desire to
gratify some self-regarding or sympathetic feeling, or disappointment
when that desire is not gratified, there is, I conceive, no such thing
as ill-feeling in one human being towards another. Resentment is
properly a reflex form of sympathy or self-regard, arising when our
sympathetic feelings are wounded by an injury done to another, or our
self-regarding desires are frustrated by an injury done to ourselves;
when, in fact, any emotional element in our nature is, by the
intentional intervention of another, disappointed of attaining its end.
Each of these groups of feelings admits of being studied apart, though
in the actual conduct of life they are seldom found to operate alone,
and each, under the continued action of reason, assumes a form or forms
in which its various elements are brought into harmonious working with
each other, so as best to promote the ends which the whole group
subserves. These forms, thus rationalised or moralised, if I may be
allowed the use of such expressions, are, in the case of the
self-regarding feelings, self-respect and rational self-love; in the
case of the sympathetic feelings, rational benevolence; in the case of
the semi-social feelings, a reasonable regard for the opinion of others;
and in the case of the resentful feelings, a sense of justice. These
higher forms of the several groups of feelings themselves require to be
harmonised, before man can satisfy the needs of his nature as a whole.
And, when co-ordinated under the control of reason, they become a
rational desire for the combined welfare of the individual and of
society, or, if we choose to use different but equivalent expressions,
of the individual considered as an unit of society, or of society
considered as including the individual. In a settled state of existence,
the interests of the individual and of society, even leaving out of
account the pleasures and pains of the moral sanction, are, for the most
part, identical. If an individual pursues a selfish course of conduct,
neglecting the interests and feelings of others, he is almost certain to
suffer for it in the long run. And the prosperity and general well-being
of the community in which they live is, to citizens, living a normal
life and pursuing ordinary avocations, an essential condition of their
own prosperity and well-being. On the other hand, it is by each man
attending to his own business and directing his efforts to the promotion
of his own interests or those of his family, his firm, or whatever may
be the smaller social aggregate in which his work chiefly lies, that the
interests of the community at large are best secured. Men whose time is
mainly taken up with philanthropic enterprises are very likely to
neglect the duties which lie immediately before them. 'To learn and
labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of
life, unto which it shall please God to call me' is a very homely, but
it is an essential lesson. That the great mass of the citizens of a
country should lay it well to heart, and act habitually on it, is the
first condition of national prosperity. Of course, this primary regard
to our own interests, or those of the persons with whom we are more
immediately connected, must be limited by wider considerations. A man
has duties, not only to himself and his own family, but to his
neighbours, to the various institutions with which he is connected, to
his town, his country, mankind at large, and even the whole sentient
creation. How far these should limit each other or a man's individual or
family interests is a question by no means easy to answer, and is the
main problem which each man has to be perpetually solving for himself,
and society at large for us all. There is hardly any waking hour in
which we have not to attempt to settle rival claims of this kind, and,
according as we settle them to our own satisfaction or not, so have we
peace or trouble of mind. No one can reasonably deny that the more
immediate interests of the individual and of the various social
aggregates, including society at large, are frequently in conflict. It
seems to me, I must confess, that it is also futile to deny that there
are occasions, though such occasions may be rare, in which even a man's
interests in the long run are incompatible with his social duties. To
take one or two instances. It may sometimes be for the good of society
that a man should speak out his mind freely on some question of private
conduct or public policy, though his utterances may be on the unpopular
side or offend persons of consideration and influence. The man performs
what he conceives to be his duty, but he knows that, in doing so, he is
sacrificing his prospects. Or, again, he is invited to join in some
popular movement which he believes to be of a questionable or pernicious
tendency, and, because he believes that to take part in it would be
untrue to his own convictions and possibly harmful to others, he
refrains from doing so, at the risk of losing preferment, or custom, or
patronage. Then, we are all familiar with the difficulties in which men
are often placed, when they have to record a vote; their convictions and
the claims of the public service being on one side, and their own
interests and prospects on the other. In all these cases it is true
that, if their moral nature be in a healthy condition, they approve, on
reflexion, of having taken the more generous course, while it is often a
matter of life-long regret if they have sacrificed their nobler impulses
to their selfish interests. And, taking into account these
after-feelings of self-approbation and self-disapprobation, it is often
the case, and is always the case where these feelings are very strong,
that a man gains more happiness, in the long run, by following the path
of duty and obeying his social impulses than by confining himself to the
narrow view which would be dictated by a cool calculation of what is
most likely to conduce to his own private good. But, where the moral
feelings are not strong, and still more where they are almost in
abeyance, I fear that the theory that virtue and happiness are
invariably coincident will hardly be supported by a candid examination
of facts. To some men, I fear it must be acknowledged, present wealth
and power and dignity are more than a sufficient recompense for any
remorse which they may continue to feel for past greed or lack of
candour or truthfulness. These considerations will serve to shew the
immense importance of moral education, alike in the family, the school,
and the state. If we are to depend on men acting rightly, and with a due
regard to wider interests than their own, we must take pains to develope
in them moral feelings sufficiently strong and sensitive to make the
reflexion on wrong or selfish acts more painful to them than the
sacrifice which is needed for dutiful and generous conduct. So far as
society, through its various instruments of law and opinion, of
education and domestic influences, can effect this object, so far will
it promote its own security and advancement.

Our adoption, then, of a tendency to promote social welfare or
well-being, as the test of conduct, is justified, I conceive, by an
examination of the internal constitution of human nature and of the
conditions which are necessary to secure the harmonious working of its
various parts. It may be objected that this test is vague in its
conception and difficult in its application. Both objections, to a great
extent, hold good. If they did not, moral theory and moral practice
would be very easy matters, but, as a fact, we know that they are by no
means easy. The conception of social well-being must be more or less
vague, because we are constantly filling it up by experience; it is not
a fixed, but a growing conception, and, though we may be certain of the
character and importance of many of the elements which have already been
detected in it by the experience of past generations, it seems
impossible to fix any limits to its development in the future history of
mankind. Man will constantly be discovering new wants, new and more
refined susceptibilities of his nature, and with them his conception of
human well-being must necessarily grow. But, though not a fixed or final
conception, the idea of social well-being is sufficiently definite, in
each generation, to act as a guide and incentive to conduct. It is the
star, gradually growing brighter and brighter, which lights our path,
and, any way, we know that, if it were not above us in the heavens, we
should be walking in the darkness.

It must be confessed that the test of social well-being is not always
easy of application. Even, when we know what the good of the community
consists in, it is not always easy to say what course of action will
promote it, or what course of action is likely to retard it. Society
arrives, in a comparatively early period of its development, at certain
broad rules of conduct, such as those which condemn murder, theft,
ingratitude to friends, disobedience to parents. But the more remote
applications of these rules, the nicer shades of conduct, such as those
relating to social intercourse, the choice between clashing duties, the
realisation of our obligations to the community at large, require for
their appreciation a large amount of intelligence and an accumulated
stock of experience which are not to be found in primitive societies.
Hence, the rules of conduct, which at first are few and simple,
gradually become more numerous and complex. Nor have we yet arrived at
the time, nor do we seem to be within any appreciable distance of it,
when the code is complete, or even the parts of it which already exist
are altogether free from doubt and discussion. In the simpler relations
of life, he that runs may read, but with increasing complications comes
increasing uncertainty. To remove, as far as may be, this uncertainty
from the domain of conduct is the task of advancing civilisation, and
specially of those members of a community who have sufficient leisure,
education, and intelligence to review the motives and compare the
results of actions. The task has doubtless its special difficulties, and
the conclusions of the moralist will by no means always command assent,
but that the art of life is an easy one, who is there, at all
experienced in affairs or accustomed to reflexion, that will contend?

I may here pause for a moment, in order to emphasise the fact, which is
already abundantly apparent from what has preceded, that, with ever
widening and deepening conceptions of well-being, man is constantly
learning to subordinate his individual interests to those of society at
large, or rather to identify his interests with those of the larger
organism of which he is a part. It is thus that we may justify the
peculiar characteristic of the moral sentiment, indicated in the last
chapter, which seems, in all acts of which it approves, to demand an
element of sacrifice, whether of the lower to the higher self, or of the
individual to his fellows. In order thoroughly to realise ourselves, we
must be conscious of our absorption, or at least of our inclusion, in a
greater and grander system than that of our individual surroundings; in
order to find our lives, we must first discover the art of losing them.



In this chapter I propose, without any attempt to be exhaustive or
systematic, to give some examples of the manner in which the test of
conduct may be applied to practical questions, either by extending
existing rules to cases which do not obviously fall under them, or by
suggesting more refined maxims of conduct than those which are commonly
prevalent. In either case, I am accepting the somewhat invidious task of
pointing out defects in the commonly received theory, or the commonly
approved practice, of morality. But, if morality is progressive, as I
contend that it is, and progresses by the application to conduct of a
test which itself involves a growing conception, the best mode of
exhibiting the application of that test will be in the more recent
acquisitions or the more subtle deductions of morality, rather than in
its fundamental rules or most acknowledged maxims.

I shall begin with a topic, the examples of which are ready to hand, and
may easily be multiplied, to almost any extent, by the reader for
himself--the better realisation of our duties to society at large as
distinct from particular individuals. When the primary mischief
resulting from a wrong act falls upon individuals, and especially upon
our neighbours or those with whom we are constantly associating, it can
hardly escape our observation. And, even if it does, the probability is
that our attention will be quickly called to it by the reprobation of
others. But, when the consequences of the act are diffused over the
whole community, or a large aggregate of persons, so that the effect on
each individual is almost imperceptible, we are very apt to overlook the
mischief resulting from it, and so not to recognise its wrongful
character, while, at the same time, from lack of personal interest,
others fail to call us to account. Hence it is that men, almost without
any thought, and certainly often without any scruple, commit offences
against the public or against corporations or societies or companies,
which they would themselves deem it impossible for them to commit
against individuals. And yet the character of the acts is exactly the
same. Take smuggling. A man smuggles cigars or tobacco to an amount by
which he saves himself twenty shillings, and defrauds the state to the
same extent. This is simply an act of theft, only that the object of the
theft is the community at large and not an individual. So far as the
mischief or wrongfulness of the act goes, apart from the intention of
the agent, he might as well put his hands into the pocket of one of his
fellow-passengers and extract the same amount of money. The twenty
shillings which, by evading payment of the duty, he has appropriated to
his own uses, has been taken from the rest of the tax-payers, and he has
simply shifted on to them the obligation which properly attached to
himself. Sooner or later they must make up the deficit. If many men were
to act in the same way, the burden of the honest tax-payer would be
largely increased, and, if the practice became general, the state would
have to resort to some other mode of taxation or collect its
customs-revenue at a most disproportionate cost. Thus, a little
reflexion shows that smuggling is really theft, and I cannot but think
that it would be to the moral as well as the material advantage of the
community if it were called by that name, and were visited with the same
punishment as petty larceny. Exactly the same remarks, of course, apply
to the evasion of income-tax, or of rates or taxes of any kind, which
are imposed by a legitimate authority. Travelling on a railway without a
ticket or in a higher class or for a greater distance than that for
which the ticket was taken is, similarly, only a thinly disguised case
of theft, and should be treated accordingly. The sale or purchase of
pirated editions of books is another case of the same kind, the persons
from whom the money is stolen being the authors or publishers. Many
paltry acts of pilfering, such as the unauthorised use of
government-paper or franks, or purloining novels or letter-paper from a
club, or plucking flowers in a public garden, fall under the same head
of real, though not always obvious, thefts. There is, of course, a
certain degree of pettiness which makes them insignificant, but there is
always a danger lest men should think too lightly of acts of this kind,
whether done by themselves or others. The best safeguard, perhaps,
against thoughtless wrong-doing to the community or large social
aggregates is to ask ourselves these two questions: Should we commit
this act, or what should we think of a man who did commit it, in the
case of a private individual? What would be the result, if every one who
had the opportunity were to do the same? Many of these acts would, then,
stand out in their true light, and we should recognise that they are not
only mean but criminal.

Other, but analogous, instances of the failure of men to realise their
obligations to society or to large social aggregates are to be found in
the careless and perfunctory manner in which persons employed by
government, or by corporations, or large companies, often perform their
duties. If they were in the service of a private employer, they would at
all events realise, even if they did not act on their conviction, that
they were defrauding him by idling away their time or attending to their
own affairs, or those of charities or institutions in which they were
interested, when they ought to be attending to the concerns of their
employer. But in a government or municipal office, or the establishment
of a large company, no one in particular seems to be injured by the
ineffective discharge of their functions; and hence it does not occur to
them that they are receiving their wages without rendering the
equivalent of them. The inadequate supervision which overlooks or
condones this listlessness is, of course, itself also the result of a
similar failure to realise responsibility.

The spirit in which patronage is often administered affords an instance
of a similar kind. If a man were engaging a person to perform some
service for himself or his family, or one of his intimate friends, he
would simply look to competency, including, perhaps, moral character,
for the special work to be done. But, when he has to appoint to a public
post, and especially if he is only one of a board of electors, he is
very apt to think that there is no great harm in appointing or voting
for a relative or friend, or a person who has some special bond of
connexion with him, such as that of political party, though he may not
be the candidate best qualified for the position. And, if it does occur
to him that he is acting wrongly, he is more likely to think of the
wrong which he is doing to the individual who possesses the highest
qualifications (and to him it is an undoubted wrong, for it frustrates
just expectations) than of the wrong which he is doing to the community
or the institution which he is depriving of the services of the fittest
man. And yet, if he takes the trouble to reflect, he must see that he is
guilty of a breach of trust; that, having undertaken a public duty, he
has abused the confidence reposed in him.

A vote given in return for a bribe, a case which now seldom occurs
except in parliamentary elections, is open to the same ethical
objections as a vote given on grounds of partiality; and, as the motive
which dictates the breach of trust is purely selfish, it incurs the
additional reproach of meanness. But why, it may be asked, should not a
man accept a bribe, if, on other grounds, he would vote for the
candidate who offers it? Simply, because he is encouraging a practice
which would, in time, deprive Parliament of most of its more competent
members, and reduce it to an oligarchy of millionaires, as well as
degrading himself by a sordid act. To receive a present for a vote, even
if the vote be given conscientiously, is to lend countenance to a
practice which must inevitably corrupt the consciences, and pervert the
judgment, of others. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the man who
offers the bribe is acting still more immorally than the man who accepts
it. He is not only causing others to act immorally, but, as no man can
be a proper judge of his own competency, he is attempting to thrust
himself into an office of trust without any regard to his fitness to
fill it. Intimidation, on the part of the man who practises it, is on
the same ethical level as bribery, with respect to the two points just
mentioned; but, as it appeals to the fears of men instead of their love
of gain, and costs nothing to him who employs it, it is more odious, and
deserves, at the hands of the law, a still more severe punishment. To
yield to intimidation is, under most circumstances, more excusable than
to yield to bribery; for the fear of losing what one has is to most men
a more powerful inducement than the hope of gaining what one has not,
and, generally speaking, the penalty threatened by the intimidator is
far in excess of the advantage offered by the briber.

As it betrays a vain and grasping disposition, when a man attempts to
thrust himself into an office to which he is not called by the
spontaneous voice of his fellow-citizens, so to refuse office, when
there is an evident opportunity of doing good service to the community,
betrays pride or indolence, coupled with an indifference to the public
welfare. In democratic communities, there is always a tendency on the
part of what may be called superfine persons to hold aloof from public,
and especially municipal, life. If this sentiment of fastidiousness or
indifference were to spread widely, and a fashion which begins in one
social stratum quickly permeates to those immediately below it, there
would be great danger, as there seems to be in America, of the public
administration becoming seriously and permanently deteriorated. To
prevent this evil, it is desirable to create, in every community, a
strong sentiment against the practice of persons, who have the requisite
means, leisure, and ability, withholding themselves from public life,
when invited by their fellow-citizens to take their part in it. There
may, of course, be paramount claims of another kind, such as those of
science, or art, or literature, or education, but the superior
importance of these claims on the individuals themselves, where they
obviously exist, and where the claims of the public service are not
urgent, would readily be allowed.

It seems to be a rapid transition from cases of this kind to suicide,
but, amongst the many reasons, moral and religious, which may be urged
against suicide, there is one which connects itself closely with the
considerations which have just been under our notice. As pointed out
long ago by Aristotle, the suicide wrongs the state rather than himself.
Where a man is still able to do any service to the state, in either a
private or a public capacity, he is under a social, and, therefore, a
moral obligation to perform that service, and, consequently, to withdraw
from it by a voluntary death is to desert the post of duty. This
consideration, of course, holds only where a man's life is still of
value to society, but it should be pointed out that, where this ceases
to be the case, many other considerations often, and some always do,
intervene. There are few men who have not relatives, friends, or
neighbours, who will be pained, even if they are not injured materially,
by an act of suicide, and, wherever the injury is a material one, as in
the case of leaving helpless relatives unprovided for, it becomes an act
of cruelty. Then, under all circumstances, there remain the evil example
of cowardice and, to those who acknowledge the obligations of religion,
the sin of cutting short the period of probation which God has assigned

Amongst duties to society, which are seldom fully realised in their
social aspect, is the duty of bringing up children in such a manner as
to render them useful to the state, instead of a burden upon it. Under
this head, there are two distinct cases, that of the rich and that of
the poor, or, more precisely, that of those who are in sufficiently good
circumstances to educate their children without the assistance of the
state or of their neighbours, and that of those who require such
assistance. In the latter case, it is the duty of society to co-operate
with the parent in giving the child an education which shall fit it for
the industrial occupations of life, and hence the moral obligation on
the richer members of a community to provide elementary schools, aided
by the state or by some smaller political aggregate, or else by
voluntary efforts. The object of this assistance is not so much charity
to the parent or the individual children, as the prevention of crime and
pauperism, and the supply of an orderly and competent industrial class.
In rendering the assistance, whether it come from public or private
funds, great care ought to be taken not to weaken, but, rather to
stimulate, the interest of the parent in the child's progress, both by
assigning to him a share of the responsibility of supervision, and, if
possible, by compelling him to contribute an equitable proportion of the
cost. So largely, if not so fully, are the duties of the state and of
individuals of the wealthier classes, in the matter of educating the
children of the poor, now recognised, that the dangers arising from a
defective or injudicious education seem, in the immediate future, to
threaten the richer rather than the poorer classes. Over-indulgence and
the encouragement of luxurious habits during childhood; the weakened
sense of responsibility, on the part of the parent, which is often
caused by the transference to others of authority and supervision during
boyhood or girlhood; the undue stimulation of the love of amusement, or
of the craving for material comforts, during the opening years of
manhood or womanhood; the failure to create serious interests or teach
adequately the social responsibilities which wealth and position bring
with them,--all these mistakes or defects in the education of the
children of the upper classes constitute a grave peril to society,
unless they are remedied in time. It seems, so far as we can forecast
the future, that it is only by all classes taking pains to ascertain
their respective duties and functions in sustaining and promoting the
well-being of the community, and making serious efforts to perform them,
that the society of the next few generations can be saved from constant
convulsions. As intelligence expands, and a sense of the importance of
social co-operation becomes diffused, it is almost certain that the
existence of a merely idle and self-indulgent class will no longer be
tolerated. Hence, it is as much to the interests of the wealthier
classes themselves as of society at large, that their children should be
educated with a full sense of their social responsibilities, and
equipped with all the moral and intellectual aptitudes which are
requisite to enable them to take a lead in the development of the
community of which they are members.

And here, perhaps, I may take occasion to draw attention to the
importance of the acquisition of political knowledge by all citizens of
the state, and especially by those who belong to the leisured classes.
It is a plain duty to society, that men should not exercise political
power, unless they have some knowledge of the questions at issue. The
amount of this knowledge may vary almost infinitely, from that of the
veteran statesman to that of the newly enfranchised elector, but it is
within the power of every one, who can observe and reason, to acquire
some knowledge of at least the questions which affect his own employment
and the welfare of his own family and neighbourhood, and, unless he will
take thus much pains, he might surely have the modesty to forego his
vote. To record a vote simply to please some one else is only one degree
baser than to barter it for money or money's worth, and indeed it is
often only an indirect mode of doing the same thing.

There is a large class of cases, primarily affecting individuals rather
than society at large, which, if we look a little below the surface and
trace their results, are of a much more pernicious character than is
usually recognised, and, as ethical knowledge increases, ought to incur
far more severe reprobation than they now do. Foremost amongst these is
what I may call the current morality of debts. A man incurs a debt with
a tradesman which he has no intention or no reasonable prospect of
paying, knowing that the tradesman has no grounds for suspecting his
inability to pay. The tradesman parts with the goods, supposing that he
will receive the equivalent; the customer carries them off, knowing that
this equivalent is not, and is not likely to be, forthcoming. I confess
that I am entirely unable to distinguish this case from that of ordinary
theft. And still there is many a man, well received in society, who
habitually acts in this manner, and whose practice must be more than
suspected by his friends and associates. He and his friends would be
much astonished if he were accosted as a thief, and still I cannot see
how he could reasonably repudiate this title. Short of this extreme
case, which, however, is by no means uncommon, there are many degrees of
what may be called criminal negligence or imprudence in contracting
debts, as where a man runs up a large bill with only a slender
probability of meeting it, or a larger bill than he can probably meet in
full, or one of which he must defer the payment beyond a reasonable
time. In all these cases, which are much aggravated, if the goods
obtained are luxuries and not necessaries (for it is one of the plainest
duties of every man, who is removed from absolute want, to live within
his means), there is either actual dishonesty or a dangerous
approximation to it, and it would be a great advance in every-day
morality if society were to recognise this fact distinctly, and
apportion its censures accordingly. Where the tradesman knows that he is
running a risk, the customer being also aware that he knows it, and
adapts his charges to the fact, it is a case of 'Greek meet Greek,' and,
even if the customer deserves reprobation, the tradesman certainly
deserves no compassion. But this is a case outside the range of honest
dealing altogether, and must be regulated by other sentiments and other
laws than those which prevail in ordinary commerce. There is another
well-known, and to many men only too familiar, exception to the ordinary
relation of debtor and creditor. A friend 'borrows' money of you, though
it is understood on both sides that he will have no opportunity of
repaying it, and that it is virtually a gift. Here, as the creditor does
not expect any repayment, and the debtor knows that he does not, there
is no act of dishonesty, but the debtor, by asking for a loan and not a
gift, evades the obligation of gratitude and reciprocal service which
would attach to the latter, and thus takes a certain advantage of his
benefactor. In this case it would be far more straightforward, even if
it involved some humiliation, to use plain words, and to accept at once
the true position of a recipient, and not affect the seeming one of a
borrower. Connected with the subject of debtor and creditor is the
ungrounded notion, to which I have already adverted, that the payment of
what are called debts of honour ought to take precedence of all other
pecuniary obligations. As these 'debts of honour' generally arise from
bets or play or loans contracted with friends, the position assumed is
simply that debts incurred to members of our own class or persons whom
we know place us under a greater obligation than debts incurred to
strangers or persons belonging to a lower grade in society. As thus
stated, the maxim is evidently preposterous and indefensible, and
affords a good instance, as I have noticed in a previous chapter, of the
subordination of the laws of general morality to the convenience and
prejudices of particular cliques and classes. If there is any
competition at all admissible between just debts, surely those which
have been incurred in return for commodities supplied have a stronger
claim than those, arising from play or bets, which represent no
sacrifice on the part of the creditor.

Another instance of the class of cases which I am now considering is to
be found in reckless gambling. Men who indulge in this practice are
usually condemned as being simply hare-brained or foolish; but, if we
look a little below the surface, we shall find that their conduct is
often highly criminal. Many a time a man risks on play or a bet or a
horse-race or a transaction on the stock exchange the permanent welfare,
sometimes even the very subsistence, of his wife and children or others
depending on him; or, if he loses, he cuts short a career of future
usefulness, or he renders himself unable to develope, or perhaps even to
retain, his business or his estates, and so involves his tenants, or
clerks, or workmen in his ruin, or, perhaps, he becomes bankrupt and is
thus the cause of wide-spread misery amongst his creditors. And, even if
these extreme results do not follow, his rash conduct may be the cause
of much minor suffering amongst his relatives or tradesmen or
dependents, who may have to forego many legitimate enjoyments in
consequence of his one act of greed or thoughtlessness, while, in all
cases, he is encouraging by his example a practice which, if not his own
ruin, is certain to be the ruin of others. The light-heartedness with
which many a man risks his whole fortune, and the welfare of all who are
dependent on him, for what would, if gained, be no great addition to his
happiness, is a striking example of the frequent blindness of men to all
results except those which are removed but one step from their actions.
A gamester, however sanguine, sees that he may lose his money, but he
does not see all the ill consequences to himself and others which the
loss of his money will involve. Hence an act, which, if we look to the
intention, is often only thoughtless, becomes, in result, criminal, and
it is of the utmost importance that society, by its reprobation, should
make men realise what the true nature of such actions is.

I pass now to a case of a different character, which has only, within
recent years, begun to attract the attention of the moralist and
politician at all--the peril to life and health ensuing on the neglect
of sanitary precautions. A man carelessly neglects his drains, or allows
a mass of filth to accumulate in his yard, or uses well-water without
testing its qualities or ascertaining its surroundings. After a time a
fever breaks out in his household, and, perhaps, communicates itself to
his neighbours, the result being several deaths and much sickness and
suffering. These deaths and this suffering are the direct result of his
negligence, and, though it would, doubtless, be hard and unjust to call
him a murderer, he is this in effect. Of course, if, notwithstanding
warning or reflexion, he persists in his negligence, with a full
consciousness of the results which may possibly ensue from it, he incurs
a grave moral responsibility, and it is difficult to conceive a case
more fit for censure, or even punishment. Nor are the members of a
corporation or a board, in the administration of an area of which they
have undertaken the charge, less guilty, under these circumstances, than
is a private individual in the management of his own premises. If men
were properly instructed in the results of their actions or
pretermissions, in matters of this nature, and made fully conscious of
the responsibility which those results entail upon them, there would
soon be a marked decrease in physical suffering, disease, and premature
deaths. The average duration of life, in civilized countries, has
probably already been lengthened by the increased knowledge and the
increased sense of responsibility which have even now been attained.

Closely connected with these considerations on the diminution of death,
disease, and suffering by improved sanitary arrangements, is the
delicate subject of the propagation of hereditary disease. It is a
commonplace that the most important of all the acts of life, is that on
which men and women venture most thoughtlessly. But experience shews,
unmistakably, that there are many forms of disease, both mental and
bodily, which are transmitted from the parents to the children, and
that, consequently, the marriage of a diseased parent, or of a parent
with a tendency to disease, will probably be followed by the existence
of diseased children. In a matter of this kind, everything, of course,
depends on the amount of the risk incurred, that is to say, on the
extent of the evil and the probability of its transmission. The former
of these data is supplied by common observation, the latter by the
researches of the pathologist. It is for the moralist simply to draw
attention to the subject, and to insist on the responsibility attaching
to a knowledge of it. The marriages of persons who are very poor, and
have no reasonable prospect of bringing up children in health, decency,
and comfort, are open to similar considerations but, as in the last
case, I must content myself with simply adverting to the responsibility
attaching to them, and noting the extent to which that responsibility is
usually ignored. In connexion with this question, it may be added that
many of the attempts made by well-meaning people to alleviate poverty
and distress have, unfortunately, too often the effect of ultimately
aggravating those evils by diverting attention from their real causes. A
not unnatural reluctance to discuss or reflect on matters of this
delicate character, combined with the survival of maxims and sentiments
derived from an entirely different condition of society, are, doubtless,
to a great extent, the reasons of the backward condition of morality on
this subject.

The importance, from a social point of view, of the careful education of
children with reference to their future position in life has already
been considered, but, in connexion with the class of duties I am now
treating, I may draw attention to the obligation under which parents
lie, in this respect, to their children themselves. The ancient
morality, which was the product of the patriarchal form of society, when
the _patria potestas_ was still in vigour, laid peculiar stress on the
duties of children to parents, while it almost ignored the reciprocal
duties of parents to children. When the members of a family were seldom
separated, and the pressure of population had not yet begun to be felt,
this was the natural order of ideas with respect to the parental
relation. But now that the common labour of the household is replaced by
competition amongst individuals, and most young men and women have, at
an early age, to leave their families and set about earning their own
living, or carving out their own career, it is obvious, on reflexion,
that parents are guilty of a gross breach of duty, if they do not use
their utmost endeavours to facilitate the introduction of their children
to the active work of life, and to fit them for the circumstances in
which they are likely to be placed. To bring up a son or daughter in
idleness or ignorance ought to be as great a reproach to a parent as it
is to a child to dishonour its father or mother. And yet, in the upper
and middle classes at all events, there are many parents who, without
incurring much reprobation from their friends, prefer to treat their
children like playthings or pet animals rather than to take the pains to
train them with a view to their future trials and duties. It ought to be
thoroughly realised, and, as the moral consciousness becomes better
adapted to the existing circumstances of society, it is to be trusted
that it will be realised, that parents have no moral right to do what
they choose with their children, but that they are under a strict
obligation both to society and to their children themselves so to mould
their dispositions and develope their faculties and inform their minds
and train their bodies as to render them good and useful citizens, and
honest and skilful men. It is to be hoped that, some day, people will
regard with as much surprise the notion that parents have a right to
neglect the education of their children as we now regard with wonder,
when we first hear of it; the maxim of archaic law, that a parent had a
right to put his child to death.

Much of the trouble, vexation, and misery of which men are the cause to
themselves is due to cowardice, or the false shame which results from
attaching undue importance to custom, fashion, or the opinion of others,
even when that opinion is not confirmed by their own reflexion. Shame is
an invaluable protection to men, as a restraining feeling. But the
objects to which it properly attaches are wrong-doing, unkindness,
discourtesy, to others, and, as regards ourselves, ignorance,
imprudence, intemperance, impurity, and avoidable defects or
misfortunes. While it confines itself to objects such as these, it is
one of the sternest and, at the same time, most effective guardians of
virtue and self-respect. But, as soon as a man begins to care about what
others will say of circumstances not under his own control, such as his
race, his origin, his appearance, his physical defects, or his lack of
wealth or natural talents, he may be laying up for himself a store of
incalculable misery, and is certainly enfeebling his character and
impairing his chances of future usefulness. It is under the influence of
this motive, for instance, that many a man lives above his income, not
for the purpose of gratifying any real wants either of himself or his
family, but for the sake of 'keeping up appearances,' though he is
exposing his creditors to considerable losses, his family to many
probable disadvantages, and himself to almost certain disgrace in the
future. It is under the influence of this motive, too, that many men, in
the upper and middle classes, rather than marry on a modest income, and
drop out of the society of their fashionable acquaintance, form
irregular sexual connexions, which are a source of injury to themselves
and ruin to their victims.

A circumstance which has probably contributed largely, in recent times,
to aggravate the feeling of false shame is the new departure which, in
commercial communities, has been taken by class-distinctions. The old
line, which formed a sharp separation between the nobility and all other
classes, has been almost effaced, and in its place have been substituted
many shades of difference between different grades of society, together
with a broad line of demarcation between what may be called the genteel
and the ungenteel classes. It was a certain advantage of the old line
that it could not be passed, and, hence, though there might be some
jealousy felt towards the nobility as a class, there were none of the
heart-burnings which attach to an uncertain position or a futile effort
to rise. In modern society, on the other hand, there is hardly any one
whose position is so fixed, that he may not easily rise above or fall
below it, and hence there is constant room for social ambition, social
disappointment, and social jealousy. Again, the broad line of gentility,
which now corresponds most closely with the old distinction of nobility,
is determined by such a number of considerations,--birth, connexions,
means, manners, education, with the arbitrary, though almost essential,
condition of not being engaged in retail trade,--that those who are just
excluded by it are apt to feel their position somewhat unintelligible,
and, therefore, all the more galling to their pride and self-respect It
would be curious to ascertain what proportion of the minor
inconveniences and vexations of modern life is due to the perplexity, on
the one side, and the soreness, on the other, created by the
exclusiveness of class-distinctions. That these distinctions are an
evil, in themselves, there can, I think, be no doubt. Men cannot, of
course, all know one another, much less be on terms of intimacy with one
another, and the degree of their acquaintance or intimacy will always be
largely dependent on community of tastes, interests, occupations, and
early associations. But these facts afford no reason why one set of men
should look down with superciliousness and disdain on another set of men
who have not enjoyed the same early advantages or are not at present
endowed with the same gifts or accomplishments as themselves, or why
they should hold aloof from them when there is any opportunity of
common action or social intercourse. The pride of class is eminently
unreasonable, and, in those who profess to believe in Christianity,
pre-eminently inconsistent. It will always, probably, continue to exist,
but we may hope that it will be progressively modified by the advance of
education, by the spread of social sympathy, and by a growing habit of
reflexion. The ideal social condition would be one in which, though men
continued to form themselves into groups, no one thought the worse or
the more lightly of another, because he belonged to a different group
from himself.

Connected with exaggerated class-feeling are abuses of-esprit de
corps_. Unlike class-feeling, _esprit de corps_ is, in itself, a good.
It binds men together, as in a vessel or a regiment, a school or a
college, an institution or a municipality, and leads them to sacrifice
their ease or their selfish aims, and to act loyally and cordially with
one another in view of the common interest. It is only when it
sacrifices to the interests of its own body wider interests still, and
subordinates patriotism or morality to the narrower sentiment attaching
to a special law of honour, that it incurs the reprobation of the
moralist. But that it does sometimes deservedly incur this reprobation,
admits of no question. A man, to save the honour of his regiment, may
impair the efficiency of an army, or, to promote the interests of his
college or school, may inflict a lasting injury on education, or, to
protect his associates, may withhold or pervert evidence, or, to
aggrandize his trade, may ruin his country. It is the special province
of the moralist, in these cases, to intervene, and point out how the
more general is being sacrificed to the more special interest, the wider
to the narrower sentiment, morality itself to a point of honour or
etiquette. But, at the same time, he must recollect that the _esprit de
corps_ of any small aggregate of men is, as such, always an ennobling
and inspiriting sentiment, and that, unless it plainly detach them from
the rest of the community, and is attended with pernicious consequences
to society at large, it is unwise, if not reckless, to seek to impair

To descend to a subject of less, though still of considerable,
importance, I may notice that cowardice and fear of 'what people will
say' lies at the bottom of much ill-considered charity and of that
facility with which men, often to the injury of themselves or their
families, if not of the very objects pleaded for, listen to the
solicitations of the inconsiderate or interested subscription-monger. It
has now become a truism that enormous mischief is done by the
indiscriminate distribution of alms to beggars or paupers. It is no less
true, though not so obvious, that much unintentional harm is often done
by subscriptions for what are called public objects. People ought to
have sufficient mental independence to ask themselves what will be the
ultimate effects of subscribing their money, and, if they honestly
believe that those effects will be pernicious or of doubtful utility,
they ought to have the courage to refuse it. There is no good reason,
simply because a man asks me and I find that others are yielding to him,
why I should subscribe a guinea towards disfiguring a church, or
erecting an ugly and useless building, or extending pauperism, or
encouraging the growth of luxurious habits, or spreading opinions which
I do not believe. And I may be the more emboldened in my refusal, when I
consider how mixed, or how selfish, are often the motives of those who
solicit me, and that the love of notoriety, or the gratification of a
feeling of self-importance, or a fussy restlessness, or the craving for
preferment is frequently quite as powerful an incentive of their
activity as a desire to promote the objects explicitly avowed. There is,
moreover, an important consideration, connected with this subject, which
often escapes notice, namely, the extent to which new and multiplied
appeals to charity often interfere with older, nearer, and more pressing
claims. Thus, the managers of the local hospital or dispensary or
charity organisation have often too good cause to regret the
enthusiastic philanthropy, which is sending help, of questionable
utility, to distant parts of the world. People cannot subscribe to
everything, and they are too apt to fall in with the most recent and
most fashionable movement. In venturing on these remarks, I trust it is
needless to say that I am far from deprecating the general practice of
subscribing to charities and public objects, a form of co-operation
which has been rendered indispensable by the habits and circumstances of
modern life. I am simply insisting on the importance and responsibility
of ascertaining whether the aims proposed are likely to be productive of
good or evil, and deprecating the cowardice or listlessness which yields
to a solicitation, irrespectively of the merits of the proposal.

These solicitations often take the offensive form, which is
intentionally embarrassing to the person solicited, of an appeal to
relieve the purveyor of the subscription-list himself from the
obligation incurred by a 'guarantee.' The issue is thus ingeniously and
unfairly transferred from the claims of the object, which it is designed
to promote, to the question of relieving a friend or a neighbour from a
heavy pecuniary obligation. 'Surely you will never allow me to pay all
this money myself.' But why not, unless I approve of the object, and,
even if I do, why should I increase my subscription, on account of an
obligation voluntarily incurred by you, without any encouragement from
me? In a case of this kind, the 'guarantee' ought to be regarded as
simply irrelevant, and the question decided solely on the merits of the
result to be attained. Of course, I must be understood to be speaking
here only of those cases in which the 'guarantee' is used as an
additional argument for eliciting subscriptions, not of those cases in
which, for convenience sake, or in order to secure celerity of
execution, a few wealthy persons generously advance the whole sum
required for a project, being quite willing to pay it themselves, unless
they meet with ready and cheerful co-operation.

In the department of social intercourse, there are several applications
of existing moral principles, and specially of the softer virtues of
kindness, courtesy, and consideration for others, the observance of
which would sensibly sweeten our relations to our fellow-men and, to
persons of a sensitive temperament, render life far more agreeable and
better worth living than it actually is. A few of these applications I
shall attempt to point out. Amongst savage races, and in the less
polished ranks of civilized life, men who disagree, or have any grudge
against one another, resort to physical blows or coarse invective. In
polite and educated circles, these weapons are replaced by sarcasm and
innuendo. There are, of course, many advantages gained by the
substitution of this more refined mode of warfare, but the mere fact
that the intellectual skill which it displays gives pleasure to the
bystanders, and wins social applause, renders its employment far more
frequent than, on cool reflexion, could be justified by the occasions
for it. There can be no doubt that it gives pain, often intense pain,
especially where the victim is not ready enough to retaliate effectively
in kind. And there can be no more justification for inflicting this
peculiar kind of pain than any other, unless the circumstances are such
as to demand it. Any one, who will take the trouble to analyse his acts
and motives, will generally find, when he employs these weapons, that he
is actuated not so much by any desire to reform the object of his attack
or to deter, by these means, him or others from wrong-doing, as by a
desire to show off his own cleverness and to leave behind him a mark of
his power in the smart which he inflicts. These unamiable motives are
least justifiable, when the victim is a social inferior, or a person
who, by his age or position, is unable to retaliate on equal terms. To
vanity and cruelty are then added cowardice, and, though all these vices
may only be displayed on a very small scale, they are none the less
really present. It may be laid down, however difficult, with our present
social habits, it may be to keep the rule, that sarcasm should never be
employed, except deliberately, and as a punishment, and that for
innuendo, if justifiable by facts, men should always have the courage to
substitute direct assertion.

Of the minor social vices, one of the commonest is a disregard, in
conversation, of other persons' feelings. Men who lay claim to the
character of gentlemen are specially bound to shew their tact and
delicacy of feeling by avoiding all subjects which have a disagreeable
personal reference or are likely to revive unpleasant associations in
the minds of any of those who are present. And yet these are qualities
which are often strangely conspicuous by their absence even in educated
and cultivated society. One of the most repulsive and least excusable
forms which this indifference to other persons' feelings takes is in
impertinent curiosity. There are some people who, for the sake of
satisfying a purposeless curiosity, will ask questions which they know
it cannot be agreeable to answer. In all cases, curiosity of this kind
is evidence of want of real refinement, and is a breach of the finer
rules of social morality; but, when the questions asked are intended to
extract, directly or indirectly, unwilling information on a man's
private life or circumstances, they assume the character of sheer
vulgarity. A man's private affairs, providing his conduct of them does
not injuriously affect society, are no one's business but his own, and
much pain and vexation of the smaller kind would be saved, if this very
plain fact were duly recognised in social intercourse.

It may be noticed in passing, that there still lingers on in society a
minor form of persecution, a sort of inquisition on a small scale, which
consists in attempting to extract from a man a frank statement of his
religious, social, or political opinions, though it is known or
suspected all the time, that, if he responds to the invitation, it will
be to his social or material disadvantage. In cases of this kind, it
becomes a casuistical question how far a man is called on to disclose
his real sentiments at the bidding of any impertinent questioner. That
the free expression of opinion should be attended with this danger is,
of course, a proof how far removed we still are from perfect
intellectual toleration.

Impertinent curiosity is offensive, not only because it shews an
indifference to the feelings of the person questioned, but because it
savours of gratuitous interference in his affairs. This quality it
shares with another of the minor social vices, the tendering of unasked
for advice, or, in brief, impertinent advice. There are certain
circumstances and relations in which men have the right, even if they
are not under the obligation, to give unsolicited advice, as where a man
is incurring an unknown danger or foregoing some unsuspected advantage,
or to their servants, or children, or wards, or pupils; but, in all
these cases, either the special circumstance or the special relation
implies superiority of knowledge or superiority of position on the part
of the person tendering the advice, and to assume this superiority,
where it does not plainly exist, is an act of impertinence. Just as the
assumption of superiority wounds a man's self-respect, so does the
disposition to meddle in his affairs, which is generally founded on that
assumption, affect his sense of independence, and, hence, an act which
includes both grounds of offence seems to be a peculiarly legitimate
object of resentment. The lesson of letting other people alone is one
which men are slow to learn, though there are few who, in their own
case, do not resent any attack on their liberty of judgment or action.
This is emphatically one of the cases in which we should try to put
ourselves in the place of others, and act to them as we would that they
should act towards us.

Excessive, and often ill-natured, criticism of others is one of the
minor vices which seem to grow up with advancing civilisation and
intelligence rather than to retreat before them. It seems, as a rule, to
prevail much more in educated than in uneducated society. The reason is
not difficult to find. Education naturally makes men more fastidious and
more keenly alive to the defects of those with whom they associate. And
then, when educated men converse together, they are apt, merely from the
facility with which they deal with language, to express in an
exaggerated form the unfavourable estimate which they have formed of
others, especially if this exaggerated form can be compressed into an
epigram. But it requires little reflexion to see that this keen and
exaggerated habit of criticism must be productive of much discomfort in
a society in which it is general, and that, when applied to literary
work, even though it may be a protection against inaccuracy and breaches
of taste, it must be a great discouragement to the young and repressive
of much honest and valuable effort. To restrain the critical spirit,
whether applied to mind or conduct, with proper limits, it is necessary,
keeping these considerations in view, to ask how much we can reasonably
or profitably require of men, and, above all, never to lose that
sympathetic touch with others which renders us as keenly alive to their
difficulties as their errors, to their aspirations as their failure to
fulfil them.

I shall say nothing here of detraction, backbiting, or malicious
representation, because these are social vices which are too obvious and
too generally acknowledged to be of any service as illustrations of
those extensions or new applications of morality which I have in view in
the present chapter. I may, however, notice in passing, that the
invention or exaggeration of stories, which have a tendency to bring men
into ridicule or contempt, is a practice which, from the entertainment
it affords, is too easily tolerated by society, and usually fails to
meet with the reprobation it deserves.

I shall advert to only one other topic, namely, the treatment of the
lower animals. With rare exceptions, it is only of late that this
subject has been regarded as falling within the sphere of ethics, and it
is greatly to the credit of Bentham that he was amongst the first to
recognise its importance and to commend it to the consideration of the
legislator. That the lower animals, as sentient beings, have a claim on
our sympathies, and that, consequently, we have duties in respect of
them, I can no more doubt than that we have duties in respect to the
inferior members of our own race. But, at the same time, considering
their place in the economy of nature, I cannot doubt that man has a
right, within certain limits, to use them, and even to kill them, for
his own advantage. What these limits are is a question by no means
devoid of difficulty. There are those who maintain that we have no right
to kill animals for food, while there are those who, without maintaining
this extreme position, hold that we have no right to cause them pain for
the purposes of our own amusement, or even for the alleviation of human
suffering by means of the advancement of physiological and medical
science. It will be seen that the three questions here raised are the
legitimacy of the use of animal food, of field sports, and of
vivisection. As respects the first, I do not doubt that, considering
their relative places in the scale of being, man is morally justified in
sacrificing the lives of the lower animals to the maintenance of his own
health and vigour, let alone the probability that, if he did not, they
would multiply to such an extent as to endanger his existence, and would
themselves, in the aggregate, experience more suffering from the
privation caused by the struggle for life than they now do by incurring
violent deaths. At the same time, though man may kill the lower animals
for his own convenience, he is bound not to inflict needless suffering
on them. The torture of an animal, for no adequate purpose, is
absolutely indefensible. Cock-fights, bull-fights, and the like seem to
me to admit of no more justification than the gladiatorial shows. Are
field-sports, then, in the same category? The answer, I think, depends
on three considerations: (1) would the animal be killed any way, either
for food, or as a beast of prey; (2) what is the amount of suffering
inflicted on it, in addition to that which would be inflicted by killing
it instantaneously; (3) for what purpose is this additional suffering
inflicted. I shall not attempt to apply these considerations in detail,
but I shall simply state as my opinion that, amongst the results of a
legitimate application of them, would be the conclusions that worrying a
dog or a cat is altogether unjustifiable; that fox-hunting might be
justified on the ground that the additional suffering caused to the fox
is far more than counterbalanced by the beneficial effects, in health
and enjoyment, to the hunter; that shooting, if the sportsman be
skilful, is one of the most painless ways of putting a bird or a stag to
death, and, therefore, requires no justification, whereas, if the
sportsman be unskilful, the sufferings which he is liable to cause,
through a lingering and painful death, ought to deter him from
practising his art. With regard to the much-debated question of
vivisection, it seems to me utterly untenable, and eminently
inconsistent on the part of those who eat animal food or indulge in
field-sports, to maintain that, under no circumstances, is it morally
justifiable to inflict pain on the lower animals for the purpose of
ascertaining the causes or remedies of disease. But, having once made
this admission, I should insist on the necessity of guarding it by
confining the power of operating on the living animal to persons duly
authorised, and by limiting it to cases of research as distinct from
demonstration. Those, moreover, who are invested with this serious
responsibility, ought to feel morally bound to inflict no superfluous
suffering, and ought, consequently, to employ anaesthetics, wherever
they would not unduly interfere with the conduct of the experiment; to
resort, as far as possible, to the lower rather than the higher
organisms, as being less susceptible of pain; and to limit their
experiments, both in number and duration, as far as is consistent with
the objects for which they are permitted to perform them. This whole
question, however, of our relation to the lower animals is one which is
fraught with much difficulty, and supplies a good instance of the range
of subjects within which the moral sentiment is probably in the course
of development. Recent researches, and, still more, recent speculations,
have tended to impress us with the nearness of our kinship to other
animals, and, hence, our sympathies with them and our interest in their
welfare have been sensibly quickened. The word philanthropy no longer
expresses the most general of the sympathetic feelings, and we seem to
require some new term which shall denote our fellow-feeling with the
whole sentient creation.

Such is a sample, and I must repeat that it is intended only as a
sample, of the class of questions to which, as it seems to me, the moral
test still admits of further application. Morality, or the science and
art of conduct, had its small beginnings, I conceive, in the primeval
household and has only attained its present grand proportions by gradual
increments, derived partly from the semi-conscious operations of the
human intelligence adapting itself to the circumstances in which it is
placed, partly from the conscious meditations of reflective men. That it
is likely to advance in the future, as it has done in the past,
notwithstanding the many hindrances to its progress which confessedly
exist, is, I think, an obvious inference from experience. We may not
unreasonably hope that there will be a stricter sense of justice, a more
complete realisation of duty, more delicacy of feeling, a greater
refinement of manners, more kindliness, quicker and wider sympathies in
the coming generations than there are amongst ourselves. I have
attempted, in this Essay, briefly to delineate the nature of the
feelings on which this progress depends, and of the considerations by
which it is guided, as well as to indicate some few out of the many
directions which it is likely to take in the future. In the former part
of my task, I am aware that I have run counter to many prejudices of
long standing, and that the theories which I consider to be alone
consistent with the fact of the progress of morality, may by some be
thought to impair its authority. But if morality has its foundations in
the constitution of human nature, which itself proceeds from the Divine
Source of all things, I conceive that its credentials are sufficiently
assured. In the present chapter, I have, in attempting to illustrate the
possibility of future improvements in the art and theory of conduct,
been necessarily led to note some deficiencies in the existing moral
sentiment. This is always an unwelcome and invidious task. Men do not
like to be reminded of their moral failings, and there is hardly any
man, however critical he may be of others, who, in the actual conduct of
life, does not appear to delude himself with the idea that his own moral
practice is perfect. I appeal, however, from the unconscious assumptions
of men to their powers of reflexion, and I ask each man who reads this
book to consider carefully within himself whether, on the principles
here set out, much of the conduct and many of the ethical maxims which
are now generally accepted do not admit of refinement and improvement.
In the sphere of morals, as in all other departments of human activity,
we are bound to do for our successors what our predecessors were bound
to do, and mostly did, for us--transmit the heritage we have received
with all the additions and adaptations which the new experiences and
changing conditions of life have rendered necessary or desirable.

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