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MORAL SCIENCE: A COMPENDIUM OF ETHICS
ALEXANDER BAIN, M.A.,
Author of "Mental Science: A Compendium of Psychology;" "The
Senses and the Intellect;" "The Emotions and the Will;" "A
Manual ooof Rhetoric;" Professor of Logic in the University
of Aberdeen, etc., etc., etc.
The present Dissertation falls under two divisions.
The first division, entitled The Theory of Ethics, gives an account of
the questions or points brought into discussion, and handles at length
the two of greatest prominence, the Ethical Standard, and the Moral
The second division--on The Ethical Systems--is a full detail of all
the systems, ancient and modern, by conjoined Abstract and Summary.
With few exceptions, an abstract is made of each author's exposition
of his own theory, the fulness being measured by relative importance;
while, for better comparing and remembering the several theories, they
are summarized at the end, on a uniform plan.
The connection of Ethics with Psychology is necessarily intimate; the
leading ethical controversies involve a reference to mind, and can be
settled only by a more thorough understanding of mental processes.
Although the present volume is properly a continuation of the Manual
of Psychology and the History of Philosophy, recently published, and
contains occasional references to that treatise, it may still be
perused as an independent work on the Ethical Doctrines and Systems.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE THEORY OF ETHICS.
PRELIMINARY VIEW OF ETHICAL QUESTIONS.
I.--The ETHICAL STANDARD. Summary of views.
1. The Moral Faculty.
2. The Freedom of the Will; the sources of Disinterested conduct.
III.--The BONUM, SUMMUM BONUM, or Happiness.
IV.--The CLASSIFICATION OF DUTIES, and the Moral Code.
V.--Relationship of Ethics to POLITICS.
VI.--Relation to Theology.
THE ETHICAL STANDARD.
1. Ethics, as a department of Practice, is defined by its End.
2. The Ethical End is the welfare of society, realized through rules
of conduct duly enforced.
3. The Rules of Ethics are of two kinds. The first are imposed under
a penalty. These are Laws proper, or Obligatory Morality.
4. The second are supported by Rewards; constituting Optional
Morality, Merit, Virtue, or Nobleness.
5. The Ethical End, or Morality, _as it has been_, is founded partly
in Utility, and partly in Sentiment.
6. The Ethical End is limited, according to the view taken of Moral
Government, or Authority:--Distinction between Security and
7. Morality, in its essential parts, is 'Eternal and Immutable;' in
other parts, it varies with custom.
8. Enquiry as to the kind, of proof that an Ethical Standard is
susceptible of. The ultimate end of action must be referred to
9. The judgment of Mankind is, with some qualifications, in favour of
Happiness as the supreme end of conduct.
10. The Ethical end that society is tending to, is Happiness, or
11. Objections against Utility. I.--Happiness is not the sole aim of
12. II.--The consequences of actions are beyond calculation.
13. III.--The principle of Utility contains no motives to seek the
happiness of others.
THE MORAL FACULTY.
1. Question whether the Moral Faculty be simple or complex.
2. Arguments in favour of its being simple and intuitive:--First, Our
moral judgments are immediate and instantaneous.
3. Secondly, It is a faculty common to all mankind.
4. Thirdly, It is different from any other mental phenomenon.
5. Replies to these Arguments, and Counter-arguments:---First;
Immediateness of operation is no proof of an innate origin.
6. Secondly, The alleged similarity of men's moral judgments holds
only in a limited degree. Answers given by the advocates of an
Innate sentiment, to the discrepancies.
7. Thirdly, Moral right and wrong is not an indivisible property, but
an extensive Code of regulations.
8. Fourthly, Intuition is not sufficient to settle debated questions.
9. Fifthly, It is possible to analyze the Moral Faculty:--Estimate of
the operation of (1) Prudence, (2) Sympathy, and (3) the Emotions
10. The _peculiar attribute_ of Rightness arises from the institution
of Government or Authority.
11. The speciality of Conscience, or the Moral Sentiment, is
identified with our education under Government, or Authority.
THE ETHICAL SYSTEMS.
SOKRATES. His subjects were Men and Society. His Ethical Standard
indistinctly expressed. Resolved Virtue into Knowledge. Ideal of
pursuit--Well-doing. Inculcated self-denying Precepts. Political
Theory. Connexion of Ethics with Theology slender.
PLATO. Review of the Dialogues containing portions of Ethical
Theory:--_Alkibiades I_. discusses Just and Unjust. _Alkibiades II_.
the knowledge of Good or Reason. _Hippias Minor_ identifies Virtue
with Knowledge. _Minos_ (on Law) refers everything to the decision of
an Ideal Wise man. _Laekes_ resolves Courage, and _Charmides_
Temperance, into Intelligence or the supreme science of good and evil.
_Lysis_ (on Friendship) gives the Idea of the good as the supreme
object of affection. _Menon_ enquires, Is virtue _teachable?_ and
iterates the science of good and evil. _Protagoras_ makes Pleasure the
only good, and Pain the only evil, and defines the science of good and
evil as the comparison of pleasures and pains. _Gorgias_ contradicts
Protagoras, and sets up Order or Discipline as a final end.
_Politikus_ (on Government) repeats the Sokratic ideal of the One Wise
man. _Philebus_ makes Good a compound of Pleasure with Intelligence,
the last predominating. The _Republic_ assimilates Society to an
Individual man, and defines Justice as the balance of the constituent
parts of each. _Timoeus_ repeats the doctrine that wickedness is
disease, and not voluntary. The _Laws_ place all conduct under the
prescription of the civil magistrate. Summary of Plato's views.
THE CYNICS AND THE CYRENAICS. Cynic succession. The proper description
of the tenets of both schools comes under the Summum Bonum. The Cynic
Ideal was the minimum of wants, and their self-denial was compensated
by exemption from fear, and by pride of superiority. The Cyrenaic
ARISTIPPUS:--Was the first to maintain that the summum bonum is
Pleasure and the absence of Pain. Future Pleasures and Pains taken
into the account. His Psychology of Pleasure and Pain.
ARISTOTLE. Abstract of the Nicomachean Ethics. Book First. The Chief
Good, or Highest End of human endeavours. Great differences of opinion
as to the nature of Happiness. The Platonic Idea of the Good
criticised. The Highest End an _end-in-itself_. Virtue referable to
the special work of man; growing out of his mental capacity. External
conditions necessary to virtue and happiness. The Soul subdivided into
parts, each, having its characteristic virtue or excellence.
Book Second. Definition and classification of the Moral virtues.
Virtue the result of Habit. Doctrine of the MEAN. The test of virtue
to feel no pain. Virtue defined (_genus_) an acquirement or a State,
(_differentia_) a Mean between extremes. Rules for hitting the Mean.
Book Third. The Voluntary and Involuntary. Deliberate Preference.
Virtue and vice are voluntary. The virtues in detail:--Courage
[Self-sacrifice implied in Courage]. Temperance.
Book Fourth. Liberality. Magnificence. Magnanimity. Mildness.
Book Fifth. Justice:--Universal Justice includes all virtue.
Particular Justice is of two kinds, Distributive and Corrective.
Book Sixth. Intellectual Excellences, or Virtues of the Intellect. The
Rational part of the Soul embraces the Scientific and the Deliberative
functions. Science deals with the necessary. Prudence or the Practical
Reason; its aims and requisites. In virtue, good dispositions must be
accompanied with Prudence.
Book Seventh. Gradations of moral strength and moral weakness.
Continence and Incontinence.
Books Eighth and Ninth. Friendship:--Grounds of Friendship. Varieties
of Friendship, corresponding to different objects of liking.
Friendship between the virtuous is alone perfect. A settled habit, not
a mere passion. Equality in friendship. Political friendships.
Explanation of the family affections. Rule of reciprocity of services.
Conflicting obligations. Cessation of friendships. Goodwill. Love felt
by benefactors. Self-love. Does the happy man need friends?
Book Tenth. Pleasure:--Theories of Pleasure--Eudoxus, Speusippus,
Plato. Pleasure is not The Good. Pleasure defined. The pleasures of
Intellect. Nature of the Good or Happiness resumed. Perfect happiness
found only in the philosophical life; second to which is the active
social life of the good citizen. Happiness of the gods. Transition
from Ethics to Politics.
THE STOICS. The succession of Stoical philosophers. Theological
Doctrines of the Stoics:--The Divine Government; human beings must
rise to the comprehension of Universal Law; the soul at death absorbed
into the divine essence; argument from Design. Psychology:--Theory of
Pleasure and Pain; theory of the Will. Doctrine of Happiness or the
Good:--Pain no evil; discipline of endurance--Apathy. Theory of
Virtue:--Subordination of self to the larger interests; their view of
active Beneficence; the Stoical paradoxes; the idea of Duty;
consciousness of Self-improvement.
EPICURUS. Life and writings. His successors. Virtue and vice referred
by him to Pleasures and Pains calculated by Reason. Freedom from Pain
the primary object. Regulation of desires. Pleasure good if not
leading to pain. Bodily feeling the foundation of sensibility. Mental
feelings contain memory and hope. The greatest miseries are from the
delusions of hope, and from the torments of fear. Fear of Death and
Fear of the Gods. Relations with others; Justice and Friendship--both
based on reciprocity. Virtue and Happiness inseparable. Epicureanism
the type of all systems grounded on enlightened self-interest.
THE NEO-PLATONISTS. The Moral End to be attained through an
intellectual regimen. The soul being debased by its connection with
matter, the aim of human action is to regain the spiritual life. The
first step is the practice of the cardinal virtues: the next the
purifying virtues. Happiness is the undisturbed life of contemplation.
Correspondence of the Ethical, with the Metaphysical scheme.
SCHOLASTIC ETHICS. ABAELARD:--Lays great stress on the subjective
element in morality; highest human good, love to God; actions
judged by intention, and intention by conscience.
ST. BERNARD:--Two degrees of virtue, Humility and Love.
JOHN of SALISBURY:--Combines philosophy and theology; doctrine of
Happiness; the lower and higher desires.
ALEXANDER OF HALES. BONAVENTURA. ALBERTUS MAGNUS.
AQUINAS:--Aristotelian mode of enquiry as to the end; God the highest
good; true happiness lies in the self-sufficing theoretic
intelligence; virtue; division of the virtues.
HOBBES. (Abstract of the Ethical part of Leviathan). Constituents of
man's nature. The Good. Pleasure. The simple passions. Theory of the
Will. Good and evil. Conscience. Virtue. Position of Ethics in the
Sciences. Power, Worth, Dignity. Happiness a perpetual progress;
consequences of the restlessness of desire. Natural state of mankind;
a state of enmity and war. Necessity of articles of peace, called Laws
of Nature. Law defined. Rights; Renunciation of rights; Contract;
Merit. Justice. Laws of Gratitude, Complaisance, Pardon upon
repentance. Laws against Cruelty, Contumely, Pride, Arrogance. Laws of
Nature, how far binding. Summary.
CUMBERLAND. Standard of Moral Good summed up in Benevolence. The moral
faculty is the Reason, apprehending the Nature of Things. Innate Ideas
an insufficient foundation. Will. Disinterested action. Happiness.
Moral Code, the common good of all rational beings. Obligations in
respect of giving and of receiving. Politics. Religion.
CUDWORTH. Moral Good and Evil cannot be arbitrary. The mind has a
power of Intellection, above Sense, for aiming at the eternal and
CLARKE. The eternal Fitness and Unfitness of Things determine Justice,
Equity, Goodness and Truth, and lay corresponding obligations upon
reasonable creatures. The sanction of Rewards and Punishments
secondary and additional. Our Duties.
WOLLASTON. Resolves good and evil into Truth and Falsehood.
LOCKE. Arguments against Innate Practical Principles. Freedom of the
Will. Moral Rules grounded in law.
BUTLER. Characteristics of our Moral Perceptions. Disinterested
Benevolence a fact of our constitutions. Our passions and affections
do not aim at self as their immediate end. The Supremacy of Conscience
established from our moral nature. Meanings of Nature. Benevolence not
ultimately at variance with Self-Love.
HUTCHESON.--Primary feelings of the mind. Finer perceptions--Beauty,
Sympathy, the Moral Sense, Social feelings; the benevolent order of
the world suggesting Natural Religion. Order or subordination of the
feelings as Motives; position of Benevolence. The Moral Faculty
distinct and independent. Confirmation of the doctrine from the Sense
of Honour. Happiness. The tempers and characters bearing on happiness.
Duties to God. Circumstances affecting the moral good or evil of
actions. Rights and Laws.
MANDEVILLE. Virtue supported solely by self-interest. Compassion
resolvable into self. Pride an important source of moral virtue.
Private vices, public benefits. Origin of Society.
HUME. Question whether Reason or Sentiment be the foundation of
morals. The esteem for Benevolence shows that Utility enters into
virtue. Proofs that Justice is founded solely on Utility. Political
Society has utility for its end. The Laws. Why Utility pleases.
Qualities useful to ourselves. Qualities agreeable (1) to ourselves,
and (2) to others. Obligation. The respective share of Reason and of
Sentiment in moral approbation. Benevolence not resolvable into
PRICE. The distinctions of Right and Wrong are perceived by the
Understanding. The Beauty and Deformity of Actions. The feelings have
some part in our moral discrimination. Self-Love and Benevolence. Good
and ill Desert. Obligation. Divisions of Virtue. Intention as an
element in virtuous action. Estimate of degrees of Virtue and Vice.
ADAM SMITH. Illustration of the workings of Sympathy. Mutual sympathy.
The Amiable and the Respectable Virtues. How far the several passions
are consistent with Propriety. Influences of prosperity and adversity
on moral judgments. The Sense of Merit and Demerit. Self-approbation.
Love of Praise and of Praiseworthiness. Influence and authority of
Conscience. Self-partiality; corrected by the use of General Rules.
Connexion of Utility with Moral Approbation. Influence of Custom on
the Moral Sentiments. Character of Virtue. Self-command. Opinion
regarding the theory of the Moral Sense.
HARTLEY. Account of Disinterestedness. The Moral Sense a product of
REID. Duty not to be resolved into Interest. Conscience an original
power of the mind. Axiomatic first principles of Morals. Objections to
the theory of Utility.
STEWART. The Moral Faculty an original power. Criticism of opposing
views. Moral Obligation: connexion with Religion. Duties. Happiness:
classification of pleasures.
BROWN. Moral approbation a simple emotion of the mind. Universality of
moral distinctions. Objections to the theory of Utility. Disinterested
PALEY. The Moral Sense not intuitive. Happiness. Virtue: its
definition. Moral Obligation resolved into the command of God. Utility
a criterion of the Divine Will. Utility requires us to consider
_general_ consequences. Rights. Duties.
BENTHAM. Utility the sole foundation of Morals. Principles adverse to
Utility. The Four Sanctions of Right. Comparative estimate of
Pleasures and Pains. Classification of Pleasures and Pains. Merit and
Demerit. Pleasures and pains viewed as Motives: some motives are
Social or tutelary, others Dissocial or Self-regarding. Dispositions.
The consequences of a mischievous act. Punishment. Private Ethics
(Prudence) and Legislation distinguished; their respective spheres.
MACKINTOSH. Universality of Moral Distinctions. Antithesis or Reason
and Passion. It is not virtuous _acts_ but virtuous _dispositions_
that outweigh the pains of self-sacrifice. The moral sentiments have
for their objects Dispositions. Utility. Development of Conscience
through Association; the constituents are Gratitude, Sympathy,
Resentment and Shame, together with Education. Religion must
presuppose Morality. Objections to Utility criticised. Duties to
ourselves, an improper expression. Reference of moral sentiments to
JAMES MILL. Primary constituents of the Moral Faculty--pleasurable and
painful sensations. The Causes of these sensations. The Ideas of them,
and of their causes. Hope, Fear; Love, Joy; Hatred, Aversion. Remote
causes of pleasures and pains--Wealth, Power, Dignity, and their
opposites. Affections towards our fellow-creatures--Friendship,
Kindness, &c. Motives. Dispositions. Applications to the virtue of
Prudence. Justice--by what motives supported. Beneficence. Importance
in moral training, of Praise and Blame, and their associations; the
Moral Sanction. Derivation of Disinterested Feelings.
AUSTIN. Laws defined and classified. The Divine Laws; how are we to
know the Divine Will? Utility the sole criterion. Objections to
Utility. Criticism of the theory of a Moral Sense. Prevailing
misconceptions as to Utility. Nature of Law resumed and illustrated.
Impropriety of the term 'law' as applied to the operations of Nature.
WHEWELL. Opposing schemes of Morality. Proposal to reconcile them.
There are some actions Universally approved. A Supreme Rule of Right
to be arrived at by combining partial rules: these are obtained from
the nature of our faculties. The rule of Speech is Truth; Property
supposes Justice; the Affections indicate Humanity. It is a
self-evident maxim that the Lower parts of our nature are governed by
the Higher. Classification of Springs of Action. Disinterestedness.
Classification of Moral Rules. Division of Rights.
FERRIER. Question of the Moral Sense: errors on both sides. Sympathy
passes beyond feeling, and takes in Thought or self-consciousness.
Happiness has two ends--the maintenance of man's Rational nature, and
MANSEL. The conceptions of Right and Wrong are _sui generis_. The
moral law can have no authority unless emanating from a lawgiver. The
Standard is the moral nature, and not the arbitrary will, of God.
JOHN STUART MILL. Explanation of what Utilitarianism consists in.
Reply to objections against setting up Happiness as the Ethical end.
Ultimate Sanction of the principle of Utility: the External and
Internal sanctions; Conscience how made up. The sort of Proof that
Utility is susceptible of:--the evidence that happiness is desirable,
is that men desire it; it is consistent with Utility that virtue
should be desired for itself. Connexion between Justice and
Utility:--meanings of Justice; essentially grounded in Law; the
sentiments that support Justice, are Self-defence, and Sympathy;
Justice owes its paramount character to the essential of Security;
there are no immutable maxims of Justice.
BAILEY. Facts of the human constitution that give origin to moral
phenomena:--susceptibility to pleasure and pain, and to the causes of
them; reciprocation of these; our expecting reciprocation from others;
sympathy. Consideration of our feelings in regard to actions done to
us by others. Our feelings as spectators of actions done to others by
others. Actions done to ourselves by others. The different cases
combine to modify each other. Explanation of the discrepancies of the
moral sentiment in different communities. The consequences of actions
the only criterion for rectifying the diversities. Objections to the
happiness-test. The term Utility unsuitable. Disputes as to the origin
of moral sentiment in Reason or in a Moral Sense.
SPENCER. Happiness the ultimate, but not the proximate, end. Moral
Science a deduction from the laws of life and the conditions of
existence. There have been, and still are, developing in the race,
certain fundamental Moral Intuitions. The Expediency-Morality is
transitional. Reference to the general theory of Evolution.
KANT. Distinguishes between the empirical and the rational mode of
treating Ethics. Nothing properly good, except _Will_. Subjection of
Will to Reason. An action done from natural inclination is worthless
morally. Duty is respect for Law; conformity to Law is the one
principle of volition. Moral Law not ascertainable empirically, it
must originate _a priori_ in pure (practical) Reason. The Hypothetical
and Categorical Imperatives. Imperative of Prudence. Imperative of
Morality. The formula of Morality. The ends of Morality. The Rational
nature of man is an end-in-itself. The Will the source of its own
laws--the Autonomy of the Will. The Reason of Ends. Morality alone has
intrinsic Worth or Dignity. Principles founded on the Heteronomy of
the Will--Happiness, Perfection. Duty legitimized by the conception of
the Freedom of the Will, properly understood. Postulates of the pure
Practical Reason--Freedom, Immortality, God. Summary.
COUSIN. Analysis of the sentiments aroused in us by human actions. The
Moral Sentiment made up of a variety of moral judgments--Good and
Evil, Obligation, Liberty, Merit and Demerit. Virtue brings Happiness.
Moral Satisfaction and Remorse. The Law of Duty is conformity to
Reason. The characteristic of Reason is Universality. Classification
of Duties:--Duties to Self; to Others--Truth, Justice, Charity.
Application to Politics.
JOUFFROY. Each creature has a special nature, and a special end. Man
has certain primary passions to be satisfied. Secondary passions--the
Useful, the Good, Happiness. All the faculties controlled by the
Reason. The End of Interest. End of Universal Order. Morality the
expression of divine thought; identified with the beautiful and the
true. The moral law and self-interest coincide. Boundaries of the
three states--Passion, Egoism, Moral determination.
THE THEORY OF ETHICS.
PRELIMINARY VIEW OF ETHICAL, QUESTIONS.
As a preface to the account of the Ethical Systems, and a principle of
arrangement, for the better comparing of them, we shall review in
order the questions that arise in the discussion.
I. First of all is the question as to the ETHICAL STANDARD. What, in
the last resort, is the test, criterion, umpire, appeal, or Standard,
in determining Right and Wrong? In the concrete language of Paley,
"Why am I obliged to keep my word? The answer to this is the Theory of
Right and Wrong, the essential part of every Ethical System."
We may quote the leading answers, as both explaining and summarizing
the chief question of Ethics, and more especially of Modern Ethics.
1. It is alleged that the arbitrary Will of the Deity, as expressed in
the Bible, is the ultimate standard. On this view anything thus
commanded is right, whatever be its consequences, or however it may
clash with our sentiments and reasonings.
2. It was maintained by Hobbes, that the Sovereign, acting under his
responsibility to God, is the sole arbiter of Right and Wrong. As
regards Obligatory Morality, this seems at first sight an identical
proposition; morality is another name for law and sovereignty. In the
view of Hobbes, however, the sovereign should be a single person, of
absolute authority, humanly irresponsible, and irremoveable; a type of
sovereignty repudiated by civilized nations.
3. It has been held, in various phraseology, that a certain _fitness_,
suitability, or propriety in actions, as determined by our
Understanding or Reason, is the ultimate test. "When a man keeps his
word, there is a certain congruity or consistency between the action
and the occasion, between the making of a promise and its fulfilment;
and wherever such congruity is discernible, the action is right." This
is the view of Cudworth, Clarke, and Price. It may be called the
Intellectual or Rational theory.
A special and more abstract form of the same theory is presented in
the dictum of Kant--'act in such a way that your conduct might be a
law to all beings.'
4. It is contended, that the human mind possesses an intuition or
instinct, whereby we feel or discern at once the right from the wrong;
a view termed the doctrine of the Moral Sense, or Moral Sentiment.
Besides being supported by numerous theorizers in Ethics, this is the
prevailing and popular doctrine; it underlies most of the language of
moral suasion. The difficulties attending the stricter interpretation
of it have led to various modes of qualifying and explaining it, as
will afterwards appear. Shaftesbury and Hutcheson are more especially
identified with the enunciation of this doctrine in its modern aspect.
5. It was put forth by Mandeville that Self-interest is the only test
of moral rightness. Self-preservation is the first law of being; and
even when we are labouring for the good of others, we are still having
regard to our own interest.
6. The theory called, Utility, and Utilitarianism, supposes that the
well-being or happiness of mankind is the sole end, and ultimate
standard of morality. The agent takes account both of his own
happiness and of the happiness of others, subordinating, on proper
occasions, the first to the second. This theory is definite in its
opposition to all the others, but admits of considerable latitude of
view within itself. Stoicism and Epicureanism, are both included in
The two last-named theories--Self-Interest, and Utility or the Common
Well-Being, have exclusive regard to the consequences of actions; the
others assign to consequences a subordinate position. The terms
External and Dependent are also used to express the reference to
Happiness as the end: Internal and Independent are the contrasting
II. Ethical Theory embraces certain questions of pure PSYCHOLOGY.
1. The Psychological nature of Conscience, the Moral Sense, or by
whatever name we designate the faculty of distinguishing right and
wrong, together with the motive power to follow the one and eschew the
other. That such a faculty exists is admitted. The question is, what
is its place and origin in the mind?
On the one side, Conscience is held to be a _unique_ and ultimate
power of the mind, like the feeling of Resistance, the sense of Taste,
or the consciousness of Agreement. On the other side, Conscience is
viewed as a growth or derivation from other recognized properties of
the mind. The Theory of the Standard (4) called the doctrine of the
Moral Sense, proceeds upon the first view; on that theory, the
Standard and the Faculty make properly but one question. All other
theories are more or less compatible with the composite or derivative
nature of Conscience; the supporters of Utility, in particular, adopt
2. A second Psychological question, regarded by many (notably by Kant)
as vitally implicated in Moral Obligation, is the Freedom of the Will.
The history of opinion on this subject has been in great part already
3. Thirdly, It has been debated, on Psychological grounds, whether our
Benevolent actions (which all admit) are ultimately modes of
self-regard, or whether there be, in the human mind, a source of
purely Disinterested conduct. The first view, or the reference of
benevolence to Self, admits of degrees and varieties of statement.
(1) It may be held that in performing good actions, we expect and
obtain an immediate reward fully equivalent to the sacrifice made.
Occasionally we are rewarded in kind; but the reward most usually
forthcoming (according to Mandeville), is praise or flattery, to which
the human mind is acutely sensitive.
(2) Our constitution may be such that we are pained by the sight of an
object in distress, and give assistance, to relieve ourselves of the
pain. This was the view of Hobbes; and it is also admitted by
Mandeville as a secondary motive.
(3) We may be so formed as to derive enjoyment from the performance of
acts of kindness, in the same immediate way that we are gratified by
warmth, flowers, or music; we should thus be moved to benevolence by
an intrinsic pleasure, and not by extraneous consequences.
Bentham speaks of the pleasures and the pains of Benevolence, meaning
that we derive pleasure from causing pleasure to others, and pain from
the sight of pain in others.
(4) It may be affirmed that, although we have not by nature any purely
disinterested impulses, these are generated in us by associations and
habits, in a manner similar to the conversion of means into final
ends, as in the case of money. This is the view propounded by James
Mill, and by Mackintosh.
Allowance being made for a certain amount of fact in these various
modes of connecting Benevolence with self, it is still maintained in
the present work, as by Butler, Hume, Adam Smith, and others, that
human beings are (although very unequally) endowed with a prompting to
relieve the pains and add to the pleasures of others, irrespective of
all self-regarding considerations; and that such prompting is not a
product of associations with self.
In the ancient world, purely disinterested conduct was abundantly
manifested in practice, although not made prominent in Ethical Theory.
The enumeration of the Cardinal Virtues does not expressly contain
Benevolence; but under Courage, Self-sacrifice was implied. Patriotic
Self-devotion, Love, and Friendship were virtues highly cultivated. In
Cicero, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius, there is a recognition of general
The two heads now sketched--The Standard and the Psychology of our
Moral nature--almost entirely exhaust modern Ethics. Smith, Stewart,
and Mackintosh agree in laying down as the points in dispute these
two:--First, What does virtue consist in? Secondly, What is the power
or faculty of the mind that discovers and enforces it?
These two positions, however, are inadequate as regards Ancient
Ethics. For remedying the deficiency, and for bringing to light
matters necessary to the completeness of an Ethical survey, we add the
III. The Theory of what constitutes the Supreme END of Life, the BONUM
or the SUMMUM BONUM. The question as to the highest End has divided
the Ethical Schools, both ancient and modern. It was the point at
issue between the Stoics and the Epicureans. That Happiness is not the
highest end has been averred, in modern times, by Butler and others:
the opposite position is held by the supporters of Utility. What may
be called the severe and ascetic systems (theoretically) refuse to
sanction any pursuit of happiness or pleasure, except through virtue,
or duty to others. The view practically proceeded upon, now and in
most ages, is that virtue discharges a man's obligations to his
fellows, which being accomplished, he is then at liberty to seek what
pleases himself. (For the application of the laws of mind to the
theory of HAPPINESS, see Appendix C.)
IV.-The CLASSIFICATION OF DUTIES is characteristic of different
systems and different authors. The oldest scheme is the Four Cardinal
Virtues--Prudence, Courage, Temperance, Justice. The modern Christian
moralists usually adopt the division--Duties to God, to Others, to
Moreover, there are differences in the substance of Morality itself,
or the things actually imposed. The code under Christianity has varied
both from Judaism and from Paganism.
V.-The relationship of Ethics to POLITICS is close, while the points
of difference of the two are also of great importance. In Plato the
two subjects were inseparable; and in Aristotle, they were blended to
excess. Hobbes also joined Ethics and Politics in one system. (See
Chap, ii., Sec. 3.)
VI.-The relation of Ethics to THEOLOGY is variously represented in
modern systems. The Fathers and the Schoolmen accepted the authority
of the Bible chiefly on tradition, and did not venture to sit in
judgment on the substance of the revelation. They, therefore, rested
their Ethics exclusively on the Bible; or, at most, ventured upon
giving some mere supplement of its precepts.
Others, in more modern times, have considered that the moral character
of a revelation enters into the evidence in its favour; whence,
morality must be considered as independent, and exclusively human, in
its origin. It would be reasoning in a circle to derive the moral law
from the bible, and then to prove the bible from the moral law.
Religion superadds its own sanction to the moral duties, so far as
adopted by it; laying especial stress upon select precepts. It
likewise calls into being a distinct code of duties, the religious
duties strictly so called; which have no force except with believers.
The 'duties to God,' in the modern classification, are religious, as
distinguished from moral duties.
THE ETHICAL STANDARD.
1. ETHICS, or Morality, is a department of Practice; and, as with
other practical departments, is defined by its End.
Ethics is not mere knowledge or speculation, like the sciences of
Astronomy, Physiology, or Psychology; it is knowledge applied to
practice, or useful ends, like Navigation, Medicine, or Politics.
Every practical subject has some end to be served, the statement of
which is its definition in the first instance. Navigation is the
applying of different kinds of knowledge, and of a variety of devices,
to the end of sailing the seas.
2. The Ethical End is a certain portion of the welfare
of human beings living together in society, realized through
rules of conduct duly enforced.
The obvious intention of morality is the good of mankind. The
precepts--do not steal, do not kill, fulfil agreements, speak
truth--whatever other reasons may be assigned for them, have a direct
tendency to prevent great evils that might otherwise arise in the
intercourse of human beings.
Farther, the good aimed at by Ethics is attained by _rules of acting_,
on the part of one human being to another; and, inasmuch as these
rules often run counter to the tendencies of the individual mind, it
is requisite to provide _adequate inducements_ to comply with them.
The Ethical End is what is otherwise called the STANDARD, test, or
criterion, of Right and Wrong. The leading controversy of Morals is
centered in this point.
3. The Rules of Ethics, termed also Law, Laws, the
Moral Law, are of two kinds:--
The first are rules imposed under a Penalty for neglect, or violation.
The penalty is termed _Punishment_; the imposing party is named
Government, or Authority; and the rules so imposed and enforced, are
called Laws proper, Morality proper, Obligatory Morality, Duty.
4. The second are rules whose only external support is
_Rewards_; constituting Optional Morality, Merit, Virtue,
Moral duties are a set of rules, precepts, or prescriptions, for the
direction of human conduct in a certain sphere or province. These
rules are enforced by two kinds of motives, requiring to be kept
I.--One class of rules are made compulsory by the infliction of pain,
in the case of violation or neglect. The pain so inflicted is termed a
Penalty, or Punishment; it is one of the most familiar experiences of
all human beings living in society.
The Institution that issues Rules of this class, and inflicts
punishment when they are not complied with, is termed Government, or
Authority; all its rules are authoritative, or obligatory; they are
Laws strictly so called, Laws proper. Punishment, Government,
Authority, Superiority, Obligation, Law, Duty,--define each other;
they are all different modes of regarding the same fact.
Morality is thus in every respect analagous to Civil Government, or
the Law of the Land. Nay, farther, it squares, to a very great extent,
with Political Authority. The points where the two coincide, and those
where they do not coincide, may be briefly stated:--
(1) All the most essential parts of Morality are adopted and carried
out by the Law of the Land. The rules for protecting person and
property, for fulfilling contracts, for performing reciprocal duties,
are rules or laws of the State; and are enforced by the State, through
its own machinery. The penalties inflicted by public authority
constitute what is called the Political Sanction; they are the most
severe, and the most strictly and dispassionately administered, of all
(2) There are certain Moral duties enforced, not by public and
official authority, but by the members of the community in their
private capacity. These are sometimes called the Laws of Honour,
because they are punished by withdrawing from the violator the honour
or esteem of his fellow-citizens. Courage, Prudence as regards self,
Chastity, Orthodoxy of opinion, a certain conformity in Tastes and
Usages,--are all prescribed by the mass of each community, to a
greater or less extent, and are insisted on under penalty of social
disgrace and excommunication. This is the Social or the Popular
Sanction. The department so marked out, being distinct from the
Political sphere, is called, by Austin, Positive Morality, or Morality
Public opinion also chimes in with the Law, and adds its own sanction
to the legal penalties for offences: unless the law happens to be in
conflict with the popular sentiment. Criminals, condemned by the law,
are additionally punished by social disgrace.
(3) The Law of the Land contains many enactments, besides the Moral
Code and the machinery for executing it. The Province of government
passes beyond the properly protective function, and includes many
institutions of public convenience, which are not identified with
right and wrong. The defence from external enemies; the erection of
works of public utility; the promotion of social improvements,--are
all within the domain of the public authority.
II.--The second class of Rules are supported, not by penalties, but by
Rewards. Society, instead of punishing men for not being charitable or
benevolent, praises and otherwise rewards them, when they are so.
Hence, although Morality inculcates benevolence, this is not a Law
proper, it is not obligatory, authoritative, or binding; it is purely
voluntary, and is termed merit, virtuous and noble conduct.
In this department, the members of the community, in their unofficial
capacity, are the chief agents and administrators. The Law of the Land
occupies itself with the enforcement of its own obligatory rules,
having at its command a perfect machinery of punishment. Private
individuals administer praise, honour, esteem, approbation, and
reward. In a few instances, the Government dispenses rewards, as in
the bestowal of office, rank, titles, and pensions, but this function
is exceptional and limited.
The conduct rewarded by Society is chiefly resolvable into
Beneficence. Whoever is moved to incur sacrifices, or to go through
labours, for the good of others, is the object, not merely of
gratitude from the persons benefited, but of approbation from society
Any remarkable strictness or fidelity in the discharge of duties
properly so called, receives general esteem. Even in matters merely
ceremonial, if importance be attached to them, sedulous and exact
compliance, being the distinction of the few, will earn the
approbation of the many.
5. The Ethical End, or Morality, _as it has been_, is founded partly
on Well-being, or Utility: and partly on Sentiment.
The portions of Morality, having in view the prevention of human
misery and the promotion of human happiness, are known and obvious.
They are not the whole of Morality as it has been.
Sentiment, caprice, arbitrary liking or disliking, are names for
states of feeling that do not necessarily arise from their objects,
but may be joined or disjoined by education, custom, or the power of
the will. The revulsion of mind, on the part of the Jews, against
eating the pig, and on our own part, as regards horse flesh, is not a
primitive or natural sensibility, like the pain of hunger, or of cold,
or of a musical discord; it is purely artificial; custom has made it,
and could unmake it. The feeling of fatigue from overwork is natural;
the repugnance of caste to manual labour is factitious. The dignity
attached to the military profession, and the indignity of the office
of public executioner, are capricious, arbitrary, and sentimental. Our
prospective regard to the comforts of our declining years points to a
real interest; our feelings as to the disposal of the body after death
are purely factitious and sentimental. Such feelings are of the things
in our own power; and the grand mistake of the Stoics was their
viewing all good and evil whatever in the same light.
It is an essential part of human liberty, to permit each person to
form and to indulge these sentiments or caprices; although a good
education should control them with a view to our happiness on the
whole. But, when any individual liking or fancy of this description is
imposed as a law upon the entire community, it is a perversion and
abuse of power, a confounding of the Ethical end by foreign
admixtures. Thus, to enjoin authoritatively one mode of sepulture,
punishing all deviations from that, could have nothing to do with the
preservation of the order of society. In such a matter, the
interference of the state in modern times, has regard to the detection
of crime in the matter of life and death, and to the evils arising
from the putrescence of the dead.
6. The Ethical End, although properly confined to Utility, is subject
to still farther limitations, according to the view taken of the
Province of Moral Government, or Authority.
Although nothing should be made morally obligatory but what is
generally useful, the converse does not hold; many kinds of conduct
are generally useful, but not morally obligatory. A certain amount of
bodily exercise in the open air every day would be generally useful;
but neither the law of the land nor public opinion compels it. Good
roads are works of great utility; it is not every one's duty to make
The machinery of coercion is not brought to bear upon every
conceivable utility. It is principally reserved, when not abused, for
a select class of utilities.
Some utilities are indispensable to the very existence of men in
society. The primary moral duties must be observed to some degree, if
men are to live together as men, and not to roam at large as beasts.
The interests of _Security_ are the first and most pressing concern of
human society. Whatever relates to this has a surpassing importance.
Security is contrasted with Improvement; what relates to Security is
declared to be Right; what relates to Improvement is said to be
Expedient; both are forms of Utility, but the one is pressing and
indispensable, the other is optional. The same difference is expressed
by the contrasts--Being and Well-being; Existence and Prosperous
Existence; Fundamentals or Essentials and Circumstantials. That the
highway robber should be punished is a part of Being; that the
highways should be in good repair, is a part of Well-being. That
Justice should be done is Existence; that farmers and traders should
give in to government the statistics of their occupation, is a means
to Prosperous Existence.
It is proper to advert to one specific influence in moral enactments,
serving to disguise the Ethical end, and to widen the distinction
between morality as it has been, and morality as it ought to be. The
enforcing of legal and moral enactments demands a _power of coercion_,
to be lodged in the hands of certain persons; the possession of which
is a temptation to exceed the strict exigencies of public safety, or
the common welfare. Probably many of the whims, fancies, ceremonies,
likings and antipathies, that have found their way into the moral
codes of nations, have arisen from the arbitrary disposition of
certain individuals happening to be in authority at particular
junctures. Even the general community, acting in a spontaneous manner,
imposes needless restraints upon itself, delighting more in the
exercise of power, than in the freedom of individual action.
7. Morality, in its essential parts, is 'Eternal and Immutable;' in
other parts, it varies with Custom.
(1) The rules for protecting one man from another, for enforcing
justice, and the observance of contracts, are essential and
fundamental, and may be styled 'Eternal and Immutable.' The ends to be
served require these rules; no caprice of custom could change them
without sacrificing these ends. They are to society what food is to
individual life, of sexual intercourse and mother's care to the
continuance of the race. The primary moralities could not be exchanged
for rules enacting murder, pillage, injustice, unveracity, repudiation
of engagements; because under these rules, human society would fall to
(2) The manner of carrying into effect these primary regulations of
society, varies according to Custom. In some communities the machinery
is rude and imperfect; while others have greatly improved it. The
Greeks took the lead in advancing judicial machinery, the Romans
In the regulations not essential to Being, but important to
Well-being, there has prevailed the widest discrepancy of usage. The
single department relating to the Sexes is a sufficient testimony on
this head. No one form of the family is indispensable to the existence
of society; yet some forms are more favourable to general happiness
than others. But which form is on the whole the best, has greatly
divided opinion; and legislation has varied accordingly. The more
advanced nations have adopted compulsory monogamy, thereby giving the
prestige of their authority in favour of that system. But it cannot be
affirmed that the joining of one man to one woman is a portion of
'Eternal and Immutable Morality.'
Morality is an Institution of society, but not an arbitrary
8. Before adducing the proofs in support of the position above
assumed, namely, that Utility or Human Happiness, with certain
limitations, is the _proper_ criterion of Morality, it is proper to
enquire, what sort of evidence the Ethical Standard is susceptible of.
Hitherto, the doctrine of Utility has been assumed, in order to be
fully stated. We must next review the evidence in its favour, and the
objections urged against it. It is desirable, however, to ask what
kind of proof should be expected on such a question.
In the Speculative or Theoretical sciences, we prove a doctrine by
referring it to some other doctrine or doctrines, until we come at
last to some assumption that must be rested in as ultimate or final.
We can prove the propositions of Euclid, the law of gravitation, the
law of atomic proportions, the law of association; we cannot prove our
present sensations, nor can we demonstrate that what has been, will
be. The ultimate data must be accepted as self-evident; they have no
higher authority than that mankind generally are disposed to accept
In the practical Sciences, the question is not as to a principle of
the order of nature, but as to an _end_ of human action. There may be
_derived_ Ends, which are susceptible of demonstrative proof; but
there must also be _ultimate_ Ends, for which no proof can be offered;
they must be received as self-evident, and their sole authority is the
person receiving them. In most of the practical sciences, the ends are
derived; the end of Medicine is Health, which is an end subsidiary to
the final end of human happiness. So it is with Navigation, with
Politics, with Education, and others. In all of them, we recognize the
bearing upon human welfare, or happiness, as a common, comprehensive,
and crowning end. On the theory of Utility, Morals is also governed by
this highest end.
Now, there can be no proof offered for the position that Happiness is
the proper end of all human pursuit, the criterion of all right
conduct. It is an ultimate or final assumption, to be tested by
reference to the individual judgment of mankind. If the assumption,
that misery, and not happiness, is the proper end of life, found
supporters, no one could reply, for want of a basis of argument--an
assumption still more fundamental agreed upon by both sides. It would
probably be the case, that the supporters of misery, as an end, would
be at some point inconsistent with themselves; which would lay them
open to refutation. But to any one consistently maintaining the
position, there is no possible reply, because there is no medium of
If then, it appears, on making the appeal to mankind, that happiness
is admitted to be the highest end of all action, the theory of Utility
9. The judgment of Mankind is very generally in favour of Happiness,
as the Supreme end of human conduct, Morality included.
This decision, however, is not given without qualifications and
reservations; nor is there perfect unanimity regarding it.
The theory of Motives to the Will is the answer to the question as to
the ends of human action. According to the primary law of the Will,
each one of us, for ourselves, seeks pleasure and avoids pain, present
or prospective. The principle is interfered with by the operation of
Fixed Ideas, under the influence of the feelings; whence we have the
class of Impassioned, Exaggerated, Irrational Motives or Ends. Of
these influences, one deserves to be signalized as a source of
virtuous conduct, and as approved of by mankind generally; that is,
Sympathy with others.
Under the Fixed Idea, may be ranked the acquired sense of Dignity,
which induces us often to forfeit pleasure and incur pain. We should
not choose the life of Plato's beatified oyster, or (to use
Aristotle's example) be content with perpetual childhood, with however
great a share of childish happiness.
10. The Ethical end that men are tending to, and may ultimately adopt
without reservation, is human Welfare, Happiness, or Being and
Well-being combined, that is, Utility.
The evidence consists of such facts as these:--
(1) By far the greater part of the morality of every age and country
has reference to the welfare of society. Even in the most
superstitious, sentimental, and capricious despotisms, a very large
share of the enactments, political and moral, consist in protecting
one man from another, and in securing justice between man and man.
These objects may be badly carried out, they may be accompanied with
much oppression of the governed by the governing body, but they are
always aimed at, and occasionally secured. Of the Ten Commandments,
four pertain to Religious Worship; _six_ are Utilitarian, that is,
have no end except to ward off evils, and to further the good of
(2) The general welfare is at all times considered a strong and
adequate justification of moral rules, and is constantly adduced as a
motive for obedience. The commonplaces in support of law and morality
represent, that if murder and theft were to go unpunished, neither
life nor property would be safe; men would be in eternal warfare;
industry would perish; society must soon come to an end.
There is a strong disposition to support the more purely sentimental
requirements, and even the excesses of mere tyranny, by utilitarian
The cumbersome ablutions of oriental nations are defended on the
ground of cleanliness. The divine sanctity of kings is held to be an
aid to social obedience. Slavery is alleged to have been at one time
necessary to break in mankind to industry. Indissoluble marriage arose
from a sentiment rather than from utility; but the arguments, commonly
urged in its favour, are utilitarian.
(3) In new cases, and in cases where no sentiment or passion is called
into play, Utility alone is appealed to. In any fresh enactment, at
the present day, the good of the community is the only justification
that would be listened to. If it were proposed to forbid absolutely
the eating of pork in Christian countries, some great public evils
would have to be assigned as the motive. Were the fatalities attending
the eating of pork, on account of _trichiniae_, to become numerous,
and unpreventible, there would then be a reason, such as a modern
civilized community would consider sufficient, for making the rearing
of swine a crime and an immorality. But no mere sentimental or
capricious dislike to the pig, on the part of any number of persons,
could now procure an enactment for disusing that animal.
(4) There is a gradual tendency to withdraw from the moral code,
observances originating purely in sentiment, and having little or no
connexion with human welfare.
We have abandoned the divine sacredness of kings. We no longer
consider ourselves morally bound to denounce and extirpate heretics
and witches, still less to observe fasts and sacred days. Even in
regard to the Christian Sabbath, the opinion is growing in favour of
withdrawing both the legal and popular sanction formerly so stringent;
while the arguments for Sabbath observance are more and more charged
with considerations of secular utility.
Should these considerations be held as adequate to support the
proposition advanced, they are decisive in favour of Utility as the
Moral Standard that _ought to be_. Any other standard that may be set
up in competition with Utility, must ultimately ground itself on the
very same appeal to the opinions and the practice of mankind.
11. The chief objections urged against Utility as the moral Standard
have been in great part anticipated. Still, it is proper to advert to
them in detail.
I.--It is maintained that Happiness is not, either in fact or in
right, the sole aim of human pursuit; that men actually, deliberately,
and by conscientious preference, seek other ends. For example, it is
affirmed that Virtue is an end in itself, without regard to happiness.
On this argument it may be observed:--
(1) It has been abundantly shown in this work, that one part of the
foregoing affirmation is strictly true. Men are not urged to action
exclusively by their pleasures and their pains. They are urged by
other motives, of the impassioned kind; among which, is to be
signalized sympathy with the pains and pleasures of others. If this
had been the only instance of action at variance with the regular
course of the will, we should be able to maintain that the motive to
act is still happiness, but not always the agent's own happiness. We
have seen, however, that individuals, not unfrequently, act in
opposition both to their own, and to other people's happiness; as when
mastered by a panic, and when worked up into a frenzy of anger or
The sound and tenable position seems to be this:--Human beings, in
their best and soberest moods, looking before and after, weighing all
the consequences of actions, are generally disposed to regard
Happiness, to some beings or others, as the proper end of all
endeavours. The mother is not exclusively bent on her own happiness;
she is upon her child's. Howard abandoned the common pleasures of life
for himself, to diminish the misery of fellow creatures.
(2) It is true that human beings are apt to regard Virtue as an
end-in-itself, and not merely as a means to happiness as the final
end. But the fact is fully accounted for on the general law of
Association by Contiguity; there being many other examples of the same
kind, as the love of money. Justice, Veracity, and other virtues, are
requisite, to some extent, for the existence of society, and, to a
still greater extent, for prosperous existence. Under such
circumstances, it would certainly happen that the means would
participate in the importance of the end, and would even be regarded
as an end in itself.
(3) The great leading duties may be shown to derive their estimation
from their bearing upon human welfare. Take first, Veracity or Truth.
Of all the moral duties, this has most the appearance of being an
absolute and independent requirement. Yet mankind have always approved
of deception practised upon an enemy in war, a madman, or a highway
robber. Also, secrecy or concealment, even although misinterpreted, is
allowed, when it does not cause pernicious results; and is even
enjoined and required in the intercourse of society, in order to
prevent serious evils. But an absolute standard of truth is
incompatible, even with secrecy or disguise; in departing from the
course of perfect openness, or absolute publicity of thought and
action, in every possible circumstance, we renounce ideal truth in
favour of a compromised or qualified veracity--a pursuit of truth in
subordination to the general well-being of society.
Still less is there any form of Justice that does not have respect to
Utility. If Justice is defined as giving to every one their own, the
motive clearly is to prevent misery to individuals. If there were a
species of injustice that made no one unhappier, we may be quite sure
that tribunals would not be set up for enforcing and punishing it. The
idea of equality in Justice is seemingly an absolute conception, but,
in point of fact, equality is a matter of institution. The children of
the same parent are, in certain circumstances, regarded as unequal by
the law; and justice consists in respecting this inequality.
The virtue of Self-denial, is one that receives the commendation of
society, and stands high in the morality of reward. Still, it is a
means to an end. The operation of the associating principle tends to
raise it above this point to the rank of a final end. And there is an
ascetic scheme of life that proceeds upon this supposition; but the
generality of mankind, in practice, if not always in theory, disavow
(4) It is often affirmed by those that regard virtue, and not
happiness, as the end, that the two coincide in the long run. Now, not
to dwell upon the very serious doubts as to the matter of fact, a
universal coincidence without causal connexion is so rare as to be in
the last degree improbable. A fiction of this sort was contrived by
Leibnitz, under the title of 'pre-established harmony;' but, among the
facts of the universe, there are only one or two cases known to
12. II.--It is objected to Utility as the Standard, that the bearings
of conduct on general happiness are too numerous to be calculated; and
that even where the calculation is possible, people have seldom time
to make it.
(1) It is answered, that the primary moral duties refer to conduct
where the consequences are evident and sure. The disregard of Justice
and Truth would to an absolute certainty bring about a state of
confusion and ruin; their observance, in any high degree, contributes
to raise the standard of well-being.
In other cases, the calculation is not easy, from the number of
opposing considerations. For example, there are two sides to the
question, Is dissent morally wrong? in other words, Ought all opinions
to be tolerated? But if we venture to decide such a question, without
the balancing or calculating process, we must follow blindfold the
dictates of one or other of the two opposing sentiments,--Love of
Power and Love of Liberty.
It is not necessary that we should go through the process of
calculation every time we have occasion to perform a moral act. The
calculations have already been performed for all the leading duties,
and we have only to apply the maxims to the cases as they arise.
13. III.--The principle of Utility, it is said, contains no motives to
seek the Happiness of others; it is essentially a form of Self-Love.
The averment is that Utility is a sufficient motive to pursue our own
happiness, and the happiness of others as a means to our own; but it
does not afford any purely disinterested impulses; it is a Selfish
theory after all.
Now, as Utility is, by profession, a benevolent and not a selfish
theory, either such profession is insincere, or there must be an
obstruction in carrying it out. That the supporters of the theory are
insincere, no one has a right to affirm. The only question then is,
what are the difficulties opposed by this theory, and not present in
other theories (the Moral Sense, for example) to benevolent impulses
on the part of individuals?
Let us view the objection first as regards the Morality of Obligation,
or the duties that bind society together. Of these duties, only a
small number aim at positive beneficence; they are either Protective
of one man against another, or they enforce Reciprocity, which is
another name for Justice. The chief exception is the requiring of a
minimum of charity towards the needy.
This department of duty is maintained by the force of a certain
mixture of prudential and of beneficent considerations, on the part of
the majority, and by prudence (as fear of punishment) on the part of
the minority. But there does not appear to be anything in our
professedly Benevolent Theory of Morals to interfere with the small
portion of disinterested impulse that is bound up-with prudential
regards, in the total of motives concerned in the morality of social
order called the primary or obligatory morality.
Let us, in the next place, view the objection as regards Optional
Morality, where positive beneficence has full play. The principal
motive in this department is Reward, in the shape either of benefits
or of approbation. Now, there is nothing to hinder the supporters of
the standard of Utility from joining in the rewards or commendations
bestowed on works of charity and beneficence.
Again, there is, in the constitution of the mind, a motive superior to
reward, namely, Sympathy proper, or the purely Disinterested impulse
to alleviate the pains and advance the pleasures of others. This part
of the mind is wholly _unselfish_; it needs no other prompting than
the fact that some one is in pain, or may be made happier by something
within the power of the agent.
The objectors need to be reminded that Obligatory Morality, which
works by punishment, creates a purely selfish motive; that Optional
Morality, in so far as stimulated by Reward, is also selfish; and that
the only source of purely disinterested impulses is in the unprompted
Sympathy of the individual mind. If such sympathies exist, and if
nothing is done to uproot or paralyze them, they will urge men to do
good to others, irrespective of all theories. Good done from any other
source or motive is necessarily self-seeking. It is a common remark,
with reference to the sanctions of a future life, that they create
purely self-regarding motives. Any proposal to increase disinterested
action by moral obligation contains a self-contradiction; it is
suicidal. The rich may be made to give half their wealth to the poor;
but in as far as they are _made_ to do it, they are not benevolent.
Law distrusts generosity and supersedes it. If a man is expected to
regard the happiness of others as an end in itself, and not as means
to his own happiness, he must be left to his own impulses: 'the
quality of mercy is not _strained_' The advocates of Utility may
observe non-interference as well as others.
THE MORAL FACULTY.
1. The chief question in the Psychology of Ethics is whether the Moral
Faculty, or Conscience, be a simple or a complex fact of the mind.
Practically, it would seem of little importance in what way the moral
faculty originated, except with a view to teach us how it may be best
strengthened when it happens to be weak. Still, a very great
importance has been attached to the view, that it is simple and
innate; the supposition being that a higher authority thereby belongs
to it. If it arises from mere education, it depends on the teacher for
the time being; if it exists prior to all education, it seems to be
the voice of universal nature or of God.
2. In favour of the simple and intuitive character of Moral Sentiment,
it is argued:--
First, That our judgments of right and wrong are immediate and
On almost all occasions, we are ready at once to pronounce an action
right or wrong. We do not need to deliberate or enquire, or to canvass
reasons and considerations for and against, in order to declare a
murder, a theft, or a lie to be wrong. We are fully armed with the
power of deciding all such questions; we do not hesitate, like a
person that has to consult a variety of different faculties or
interests. Just as we pronounce at once whether the day is light or
dark, hot or cold; whether a weight is light or heavy;--we are able to
say whether an action is morally right or the opposite.
3. Secondly, It is a faculty or power belonging to all mankind.
This was expressed by Cicero, in a famous passage, often quoted with
approbation, by the supporters of innate moral distinctions. 'There is
one true and original law conformable to reason and to nature,
diffused over all, invariable, eternal, which calls to duty and deters
from injustice, &c.'
4. Thirdly, Moral Sentiment is said to be radically different in its
nature from any other fact or phenomenon of the mind.
The peculiar state of discriminating right and wrong, involving
approbation and disapprobation, is considered to be entirely unlike
any other mental element; and, if so, we are precluded from resolving
or analyzing it into simpler modes of feeling, willing, or thinking.
We have many feelings that urge us to act and abstain from acting; but
the prompting of conscience has something peculiar to itself, which
has been expressed by the terms rightness, authority, supremacy. Other
motives,--hunger, curiosity, benevolence, and so on,--have might, this
So, the Intellect has many occasions for putting forth its aptitudes
of discriminating, identifying, remembering; but the operation of
discerning right and wrong is supposed to be a unique employment of
5. In reply to these arguments, and in support of the view that the
Moral Faculty is complex and derived, the following considerations are
First, The Immediateness of a judgment, is no proof of its being
innate; long practice or familiarity has the same effect.
In proportion as we are habituated to any subject, or any class of
operations, our decisions are rapid and independent of deliberation.
An expert geometer sees at a glance whether a demonstration is
correct. In extempore speech, a person has to perform every moment a
series of judgments as to the suitability of words to meaning, to
grammar, to taste, to effect upon an audience. An old soldier knows in
an instant, without thought or deliberation, whether a position is
sufficiently guarded. There is no greater rapidity in the judgments of
right and wrong, than in these acquired professional judgments.
Moreover, the decisions of conscience are quick only in the simpler
cases. It happens not unfrequently that difficult and protracted
deliberations are necessary to a moral judgment.
6. Secondly, The alleged similarity of men's moral judgments in all
countries and times holds only to a limited degree.
The very great differences among different nations, as to what
constitutes right and wrong, are too numerous, striking, and serious,
not to have been often brought forward in Ethical controversy. Robbery
and murder are legalized in whole nations. Macaulay's picture of the
Highland Chief of former days is not singular in the experience of
'His own vassals, indeed, were few in number, but he came of the best
blood of the Highlands. He kept up a close connexion with his more
powerful kinsmen; nor did they like him the less because he was a
robber; for he never robbed them; and that robbery, merely as robbery,
was a wicked and disgraceful act, had never entered into the mind of
any Celtic chief.'
Various answers have been given by the advocates of innate morality to
these serious discrepancies.
(1) It is maintained that savage or uncultivated nations are not a
fair criterion of mankind generally: that as men become more
civilized, they approximate to unity of moral sentiment; and what
civilized men agree in, is alone to be taken as the judgment of the
Now, this argument would have great weight, in any discussion as to
what is good, useful, expedient, or what is in accordance with the
cultivated reason or intelligence of mankind; because civilization
consists in the exercise of men's intellectual faculties to improve
their condition. But in a controversy as to what is given us by
nature,--what we possess independently of intelligent search and
experience,--the appeal to civilization does not apply. What civilized
men agree upon among themselves, as opposed to savages, is likely to
be the reverse of a natural instinct; in other words, something
suggested by reason and experience.
In the next place, counting only civilized races, that is, including
the chief European, American, and Asiatic peoples of the present day,
and the Greeks and Romans of the ancient world, we still find
disparities on what are deemed by us fundamental points of moral right
and wrong. Polygamy is regarded as right in Turkey, India, and China,
and as wrong in England. Marriages that we pronounce incestuous were
legitimate in ancient times. The views entertained by Plato and
Aristotle as to the intercourse of the sexes are now looked upon with
(2) It has been replied that, although men differ greatly in what they
consider right and wrong, they all agree in possessing _some notion_
of right and wrong. No people are entirely devoid of moral judgments.
But this is to surrender the only position of any real importance. The
simple and underived character of the moral faculty is maintained
because of the superior authority attached to what is natural, as
opposed to what is merely conventional. But if nothing be natural but
the mere fact of right and wrong, while all the details, which alone
have any value, are settled by convention and custom, we are as much
at sea on one system as on the other.
(3) It is fully admitted, being, indeed, impossible to deny, that
education must concur with natural impulses in making up the moral
sentiment. No human being, abandoned entirely to native promptings, is
ever found to manifest a sense of right and wrong. As a general rule,
the strength of the conscience depends on the care bestowed on its
cultivation. Although we have had to recognize primitive distinctions
among men as to the readiness to take on moral training, still, the
better the training, the stronger will be the conscientious
But this admission has the effect of reducing the part performed by
nature to a small and uncertain amount. Even if there were native
preferences, they might be completely overborne and reversed by an
assiduous education. The difference made by inculcation is so great,
that it practically amounts to everything. A voice so feeble as to be
overpowered by foreign elements would do no credit to nature.
7. Thirdly, Moral right and wrong is not so much a simple, indivisible
property, as an extensive Code of regulations, which cannot even be
understood without a certain maturity of the intelligence.
If is not possible to sum up the whole field of moral right and wrong,
so as to bring it within the scope of a single limited perception,
like the perception of resistance, or of colour. In regard to some of
the alleged intuitions at the foundation of our knowledge, as for
example time and space, there is a comparative simplicity and unity,
rendering their innate origin less disputable. No such simplicity can
be assigned in the region of duty.
After the subject of morals has been studied in the detail, it has,
indeed, been found practicable to comprise the whole, by a kind of
generalization, in one comprehensive recognition of regard to our
fellows. But, in the first place, this is far from a primitive or an
intuitive suggestion of the mind. It came at a late stage of human
history, and is even regarded as a part of Revelation. In the second
place, this high generality must be accompanied with detailed
applications to particular cases and circumstances. Life is full of
conflicting demands, and there must be special rules to adjust these
various demands. We have to be told that country is greater than
family; that temporary interests are to succumb to more enduring, and
Supposing the Love of our Neighbour to unfold in detail, as it
expresses in sum, the whole of morality, this is only another name for
our Sympathetic, Benevolent, or Disinterested regards, into which
therefore Conscience would be resolved, as it was by Hume.
But Morals is properly considered as a wide-ranging science, having a
variety of heads full of difficulty, and demanding minute
consideration. The subject of Justice, has nothing simple but the
abstract statement--giving each one their due; before that can be
applied, we must ascertain what is each person's due, which introduces
complex questions of relative merit, far transcending the sphere of
If any part of Morals had the simplicity of an instinct, it would be
regard to Truth. The difference between truth and falsehood might
almost be regarded as a primitive susceptibility, like the difference
between light and dark, between resistance and non-resistance. That
each person should say what is, instead of what is not, may well seem
a primitive and natural impulse. In circumstances of perfect
indifference, this would be the obvious and usual course of conduct;
being, like the straight line, the shortest distance between two
points. Let a motive arise, however, in favour of the lie, and there
is nothing to insure the truth. Reference must be made to other parts
of the mind, from which counter-motives may be furnished; and the
intuition in favour of Truth, not being able to support itself, has to
repose on the general foundation of all virtue, the instituted
recognition of the claims of others.
8. Fourthly, Intuition is incapable of settling the debated questions
of Practical Morality.
If we recall some of the great questions of practical life that have
divided the opinions of mankind, we shall find that mere Intuition is
helpless to decide them.
The toleration of heretical opinions has been a greatly contested
point. Our feelings are arrayed on both sides; and there is no
prompting of nature to arbitrate between the opposing impulses. If the
advance of civilization has tended to liberty, it has been owing
partly to greater enlightenment, and partly to the successful
struggles of dissent in the war with established opinion.
The questions relating to marriage are wholly undecideable by
intuition. The natural impulses are for unlimited co-habitation. The
degree of restraint to be put upon this tendency is not indicated by
any sentiment that can be discovered in the mind. The case is very
peculiar. In thefts and murder, the immediate consequences are injury
to some one; in sexual indulgence, the immediate result is agreeable
to all concerned. The evils are traceable only in remote consequences,
which intuition can know nothing of. It is not to be wondered,
therefore, that nations, even highly civilized, have differed widely
in their marriage institutions; agreeing only in the propriety of
adopting and enforcing _some_ regulations. So essentially has this
matter been bound up with the moral code of every society, that a
proposed criterion of morality unable to grapple with it, would be
discarded as worthless. Yet there is no intuitive sentiment that can
be of any avail in the question of marriage with a deceased wife's
9. Fifthly, It is practicable to analyze or resolve the Moral Faculty;
and, in so doing, to explain, both its peculiar property, and the
similarity of moral judgments so far as existing among men.
We begin, by estimating the operation of (1) Prudence. (2) Sympathy,
and (3) the Emotions generally.
The inducements to perform a moral act, as, for example, the
fulfilling of a bargain,--are plainly seen to be of various kinds.
(1) Prudence, or Self-interest, has obviously much to do with the
moral conduct. Postponing for the present the consideration of
Punishment, which is one mode of appeal to the prudential regards, we
can trace the workings of self-interest on many occasions wherein men
act right. To fulfil a bargain is, in the great majority of cases, for
the advantage of the agent; if he fails to perform his part, others
may do the same to him.
Our self-interest may look still farther. We may readily discover that
if we set an example of injustice, it may be taken up and repeated to
such a degree that we can count upon nothing; social security comes to
an end, and individual existence, even if possible, would cease to be
A yet higher view of self-interest informs us, that by performing all
our obligations to our fellows, we not only attain reciprocal
performance, but generate mutual affections and sympathies, which
greatly augment the happiness of life.
(2) Sympathy, or Fellow-feeling, the source of our disinterested
actions, must next be taken into the account. It is a consequence of
our sympathetic endowment that we revolt from inflicting pain on
another, and even forego a certain satisfaction to self rather than be
the occasion of suffering to a fellow creature. Moved thus, we perform
many obligations on the ground of the misery (not our own) accruing
from their neglect.
A considerable portion of human virtue springs directly from this
source. If purely disinterested tendencies were withdrawn from the
breast, the whole existence of humanity would be changed. Society
might not be impossible; there are races where mutual sympathy barely
exists: but the fulfilment of obligations, if always dependent on a
sense of self-interest, would fail where that was not apparent. On the
other hand, if we were on all occasions touched with the unhappiness
to others immediately and remotely springing from our conduct--if
sympathy were perfect and unfailing--we could hardly ever omit doing
what was right.
(3) Our several Emotions or Passions may co-operate with Prudence and
with Sympathy in a way to make both the one and the other more
Prudence, in the shape of aversion to pain, is rendered more acute
when the pain is accompanied with Fear. The perturbation of fear rises
up as a deterring motive when dangers loom in the distance. One
powerful check to the commission of injury is the retaliation of the
sufferer, which is a danger of the vague and illimitable kind,
calculated to create alarm.
Anger, or Resentment, also enters, in various ways, into our moral
impulses. In one shape it has just been noticed. In concurrence with
Self-interest and Sympathy, it heightens the feeling of reprobation
The Tender Emotion, and the Affections, uphold us in the performance
of our duties to others, being an additional safeguard against injury
to the objects of the feelings. It has already been shown how these
emotions, while tending to coalesce with Sympathy proper, are yet
distinguished from it.
The AEsthetic Emotions have important bearings upon Ethical Sentiment.
As a whole, they are favourable to human virtue, being non-exclusive
pleasures. They, however, give a bias to the formation of moral rules,
and pervert the proper test of right and wrong in a manner to be
10. Although Prudence and Sympathy, and the various Emotions named,
are powerful inducements to what is right in action, and although,
without these, right would not prevail among mankind, yet they do not
stamp the _peculiar attribute_ of Rightness. For this, we must refer
to the institution of Government, or Authority.
Although the force of these various motives on the side of right is
all-powerful and essential, so much so, that without them morality
would be impossible, they do not, of themselves, impart the character
of a moral act. We do not always feel that, because we have neglected
our interest or violated our sympathies, we have on that account done
wrong. The criterion of rightness in particular cases is something
The reasons are apparent. For although prudence, as regards self, and
sympathy or fellow-feeling, as regards others, would comprehend all
the interests of mankind--everything that morality can desire to
accomplish--nevertheless, the acting out of these impulses by each
individual at random would not suffice for the exigencies of human
life. They must be regulated, directed, reconciled by society at
large; each person must be made to work upon the same plan as every
other person. This leads to the institution of Government and
Authority, with the correlatives of Law, Obligation, and Punishment.
Our natural impulses for good are now directed into an artificial
channel, and it is no longer optional whether they shall fall into
that channel. The nature of the case requires all to conform alike to
the general arrangements, and whoever is not sufficiently urged by the
natural motives, is brought under the spur of a new kind of prudential
Government, Authority, Law, Obligation, Punishment, are all implicated
in the same great Institution of Society, to which Morality owes its
chief foundation, and the Moral Sentiment its special attribute.
Morality is not Prudence, nor Benevolence, in their primitive or
spontaneous manifestations; it is the systematic codification of
prudential and benevolent actions, rendered obligatory by what is
termed penalties or Punishment; an entirely distinct motive,
artificially framed by human society, but made so familiar to every
member of society as to be a second nature. None are allowed to be
prudential or sympathizing in their own way. Parents are compelled to
nourish their own children; servants to obey their own masters, to the
neglect of other regards; all citizens have to abide by the awards of
authority; bargains are to be fulfilled according to a prescribed form
and letter; truth is to be spoken on certain definite occasions, and
not on others. In a formed society, the very best impulses of nature
fail to guide the citizen's actions. No doubt there ought to be a
general coincidence between what Prudence and Sympathy would dictate,
and what Law dictates; but the precise adjustment is a matter of
_institution_. A moral act is not merely an act tending to reconcile
the good of the agent with the good of the whole society; it is an
act, prescribed by the social authority, and rendered obligatory upon
every citizen. Its morality is constituted by its authoritative
prescription, and not by its fulfilling the primary ends of the social
institution. A bad law is still a law; an ill-judged moral precept is
still a moral precept, felt as such by every loyal citizen.
11. It may be proved, by such evidence as the case admits of, that the
peculiarity of the Moral Sentiment, or Conscience, is identified with
our education under government, or Authority.
Conscience is described by such terms as moral approbation and
disapprobation; and involves, when highly developed, a peculiar and
unmistakeable revulsion of mind at what is wrong, and a strong
resentment towards the wrong-doer, which become Remorse, in the case
It is capable of being proved, that there is nothing natural or
primitive in these feelings, except in so far as the case happens to
concur with the dictates of Self-interest, or Sympathy, aided by the
Emotions formerly specified. Any action that is hostile to our
interest, excites a form of disapprobation, such as belongs to wounded
self-interest; and any action that puts another to pain may so affect
our natural sympathy as to be disapproved, and resented on that
ground. These natural or inborn feelings are always liable to coincide
with moral right and wrong, although they are not its criterion or
measure in the mind of each individual. But in those cases where an
unusually strong feeling of moral disapprobation is awakened, there is
apt to be a concurrence of the primitive motives of self, and of
fellow-feeling; and it is the ideal of good law, and good morality to
coincide with a certain well-proportioned adjustment of the Prudential
and the Sympathetic regards of the individual.
The requisite allowance being made for the natural impulses, we must
now adduce the facts, showing that the characteristic of the Moral
Sense is an education under Law, or Authority, through the
instrumentality of Punishment.
(1) It is a fact that human beings living in society are placed under
discipline, accompanied by punishment. Certain actions are forbidden,
and the doers of them are subjected to some painful infliction; which
is increased in severity if they are persisted in. Now, what would be
the natural consequence of such a system, under the known laws of
feeling, will, and intellect? Would not an action that always brings
down punishment be associated with the pain and the dread of
punishment? Such an association is inevitably formed, and becomes at
least a part, and a very important part, of the sense of duty; nay, it
would of itself, after a certain amount of repetition, be adequate to
restrain for ever the performance of the action, thus attaining the
end of morality.
There may be various ways of evoking and forming the moral sentiment,
but the one way most commonly trusted to, and never altogether
dispensed with, is the associating of pain, that is, punishment, with
the actions that are disallowed. Punishment is held out as the
consequence of performing certain actions; every individual is made to
taste of it; its infliction is one of the most familiar occurrences of
every-day life. Consequently, whatever else may be present in the
moral sentiment, this fact of the connexion of pain with forbidden
actions must enter into it with an overpowering prominence. Any
natural or primitive impulse in the direction of duty must be very
marked and apparent, in order to divide with this communicated bias
the direction of our conduct. It is for the supporters of innate
distinctions to point out any concurring impetus (apart from the
Prudential and Sympathetic regards) sufficiently important to cast
these powerful associations into a secondary or subordinate position.
By a familiar effect of Contiguous Association, the dread of
punishment clothes the forbidden act with a feeling of aversion, which
in the end persists of its own accord, and without reference to the
punishment. Actions that have long been connected in the mind with
pains and penalties, come to be contemplated with a _disinterested_
repugnance; they seem to give pain on their own account. This is a
parallel, from the side of pain, of the acquired attachment to money.
Now, when, by such transference, a self-subsisting sentiment of
aversion has been created, the conscience seems to be detached from
all external sanctions, and to possess an isolated footing in the
mind. It has passed through the stage of reference to authority, and
has become a law to itself. But no conscience ever arrives at the
independent standing, without first existing in the reflected and
We must never omit from the composition of the Conscience the primary
impulses of Self-Interest and Sympathy, which in minds strongly alive
to one or other, always count for a powerful element in human conduct,
although for reasons already stated, not the strictly moral element,
so far as the individual is concerned. They are adopted, more or less,
by the authority imposing the moral code; and when the two sources
coincide, the stream is all the stronger.
(2) Where moral training is omitted or greatly neglected, there is an
absence of security for virtuous conduct.
In no civilized community is moral discipline entirely wanting.
Although children may be neglected by their parents, they come at last
under the discipline of the law and the public. They cannot be
exempted from the associations of punishment with wrong. But when
these associations have not been early and sedulously formed, in the
family, in the school, and in the workshop, the moral sentiment is
left in a feeble condition. There still remain the force of the law
and of public opinion, the examples of public punishment, and the
reprobation of guilt. Every member of the community must witness daily
the degraded condition of the viciously disposed, and the prosperity
following on respect for the law. No human being escapes from thus
contracting moral impressions to a very large amount.
(3) Whenever an action is associated with Disapprobation and
Punishment, there grows up, in reference to it, a state of mind
undistinguishable from Moral Sentiment.
There are many instances where individuals are enjoined to a course of
conduct wholly indifferent with regard to universal morality, as in
the regulations of societies formed for special purposes. Each member
of the society has to conform to these regulations, under pain of
forfeiting all the benefits of the society, and of perhaps incurring
positive evils. The code of honour among gentlemen is an example of
these artificial impositions. It is not to be supposed that there
should be an innate sentiment to perform actions having nothing to
do-with moral right and wrong; yet the disapprobation and the remorse
following on a breach of the code of honour, will often be greater
than what follows a breach of the moral law. The constant habit of
regarding with dread the consequences of violating any of the rules,
simulates a moral sentiment, on a subject unconnected with morality
properly so called.
The arbitrary ceremonial customs of nations, with reference to such
points as ablutions, clothing, eating and abstinence from meats,--when
rendered obligatory by the force of penalties, occupy exactly the same
place in the mind as the principles of moral right and wrong. The same
form of dread attaches to the consequences of neglect; the same
remorse is felt by the individual offender. The exposure of the naked
person is as much abhorred as telling a lie. The Turkish woman
exposing her face, is no less conscience-smitten than if she murdered
her child. There is no act, however trivial, that cannot be raised to
the position of a moral act, by the imperative of society.
Still more striking is the growth of a moral sentiment in connexion
with such usages as the Hindoo suttee. It is known that the Hindoo
widow, if prevented from burning herself with her husband's corpse,
often feels all the pangs of remorse, and leads a life of misery and
self-humiliation. The habitual inculcation of this duty by society,
the penalty of disgrace attached to its omission, operate to implant a
sentiment in every respect analogous to the strongest moral sentiment.
THE ETHICAL SYSTEMS.
The first important name in Ancient Ethical Philosophy is SOKRATES.
For the views of Sokrates, as well as his method, we have first the
MEMORABILIA of XENOPHON, and next such of the Platonic Compositions,
as are judged, by comparison with the Memorabilia, to keep closest to
the real Sokrates. Of these, the chief are the APOLOGY OF SOKRATES,
the KRITON and the PHAEDON.
The 'Memorabilia' was composed by Xenophon, expressly to vindicate
Sokrates against the accusations and unfavourable opinions that led to
his execution. The 'Apology' is Plato's account of his method, and
also sets forth his moral attitude. The 'Kriton' describes a
conversation between him and his friend Kriton, in prison, two days
before his death, wherein, in reply to the entreaties of his friends
generally that he should make his escape from prison, he declares his
determination to abide by the laws of the Athenian State. Inasmuch as,
in the Apology, he had seemed to set his private convictions above the
public authority, he here presents another side of his character. The
'Phaedon' contains the conversation on 'the Immortality of the Soul'
just before his execution.
The Ethical bearings of the Philosophical method, the Doctrines, and
the Life of Sokrates. are these:--
The direction he gave to philosophical enquiry, was expressed in the
saying that he brought 'Philosophy down from Heaven to Earth.' His
subjects were Man and Society. He entered a protest against the
enquiries of the early philosophers as to the constitution of the
Kosmos, the nature of the Heavenly Bodies, the theory of Winds and
Storms. He called these Divine things; and in a great degree useless,
if understood. The Human relations of life, the varieties of conduct
of men towards each other in all capacities, were alone within the
compass of knowledge, and capable of yielding fruit. In short, his
turn of mind was thoroughly _practical_, we might say _utilitarian_.
I.--He gave a foundation and a shape to Ethical Science, by insisting
on its practical character, and by showing that, like the other arts
of life, it had an End, and a Theory from which flows the precepts or
means. The End, which would be the STANDARD, was not stated by him,
and hardly even by Plato, otherwise than in general language; the
Summum Bonum had not as yet become a matter of close debate. 'The art
of dealing with human beings,' 'the art of behaving in society,' 'the
science of human happiness,' were various modes of expressing the
final end of conduct. Sokrates clearly indicated the difference
between an unscientific and a scientific art; the one is an
incommunicable knack or dexterity, the other is founded on theoretical
II.--Notwithstanding his professing ignorance of what virtue is,
Sokrates had a definite doctrine with reference to Ethics, which we
may call his PSYCHOLOGY of the subject. This was the doctrine that
resolves Virtue into Knowledge, Vice into Ignorance or Folly. 'To do
right was the only way to impart happiness, or the least degree of
unhappiness compatible with any given situation: now, this was
precisely what every one wished for and aimed at--only that many
persons, from ignorance, took the wrong road; and no man was wise
enough always to take the right. But as no man was willingly his own
enemy, so no man ever did wrong willingly; it was because he was not
fully or correctly informed of the consequences of his own actions; so
that the proper remedy to apply, was enlarged teaching of consequences
and improved judgment. To make him willing to be taught, the only
condition required was to make him conscious of his own ignorance; the
want of which consciousness was the real cause both of indocility and
of vice' (Grote). This doctrine grew out of his favourite analogy
between social duty and a profession or trade. When the artizan goes
wrong, it is usually from pure ignorance or incapacity; he is willing
to do good work if he is able.
III.--The SUMMUM BONUM with Sokrates was Well-doing. He had no ideal
of pursuit for man apart from virtue, or what he esteemed virtue--the
noble and the praiseworthy. This was the elevated point of view
maintained alike by him and by Plato, and common to them with the
ideal of modern ages.
Well-doing consisted in doing well whatever a man undertook. 'The best
man,' he said, 'and the most beloved by the gods, is he that, as a
husbandman, performs well the duties of husbandry; as a surgeon, the
duties of the medical art; in political life, his duty towards the
commonwealth. The man that does nothing well is neither useful nor
agreeable to the gods.' And as knowledge is essential to all
undertakings, knowledge is the one thing needful. This exclusive
regard to knowledge was his one-sidedness as a moral theorist; but he
did not consistently exclude all reference to the voluntary control of
appetite and passion.
IV.--He inculcated Practical Precepts of a self-denying kind, intended
to curb the excesses of human desire and ambition. He urged the
pleasures of self-improvement and of duty against indulgences,
honours, and worldly advancement. In the 'Apology,' he states it as
the second aim of his life (after imparting the shock of conscious
ignorance) to reproach men for pursuing wealth and glory more than
wisdom and virtue. In 'Kriton,' he lays it down that we are never to
act wrongly or unjustly, although others are unjust to us. And, in his
own life, he furnished an illustrious example of his teaching. The
same lofty strain was taken up by Plato, and repeated in most of the
subsequent Ethical schools.
V.--His Ethical Theory extended itself to Government, where he applied
his analogy of the special arts. The legitimate King was he that knew
how to govern well.
VI.--The connexion in the mind of Sokrates between Ethics and Theology
was very slender.
In the first place, his distinction of Divine and Human things, was an
exclusion of the arbitrary will of the gods from human affairs, or
from those things that constituted the ethical end.
But in the next place, he always preserved a pious and reverential
tone of mind; and considered that, after patient study, men should
still consult the oracles, by which the gods, in cases of difficulty,
graciously signified their intentions, and their beneficent care of
the race. Then, the practice of well-doing was prompted by reference
to the satisfaction of the gods. In so far as the gods administered
the world in a right spirit, they would show favour to the virtuous.
PLATO. [427-347 B.C.]
The Ethical Doctrines of Plato are scattered through his various
Dialogues; and incorporated with his philosophical method, with his
theory of Ideas, and with his theories of man and of society.
From Sokrates, Plato derived Dialectics, or the method of Debate; he
embodied all his views in imaginary conversations, or Dialogues,
suggested by, and resembling the real conversations of Sokrates. And
farther, in imitation of his master, he carried on his search after
truth under the guise of ascertaining the exact meaning or definition
of leading terms; as Virtue, Courage, Holiness, Temperance, Justice,
Law, Beauty, Knowledge, Rhetoric, &c.
We shall first pass in review the chief Dialogues containing Ethical
The APOLOGY, KRITON, and EUTHYPHRON (we follow Mr. Grote's order) may
be passed by as belonging more to his master than to himself;
moreover, everything contained in them will be found recurring in
The ALKIBIADES I. is a good specimen of the Sokratic manner. It brings
out the loose discordant notions of _Just_ and _Unjust_ prevailing in
the community; sets forth that the Just is also honourable, good, and
expedient--the cause of happiness to the just man; urges the
importance of Self-knowledge; and maintains that the conditions of
happiness are not wealth and power, but Justice and Temperance.
ALKIBIADES II. brings out a Platonic position as to the _Good_. There
are a number of things that are good, as health, money, family, but
there is farther required the skill to apply these in proper measure
to the supreme end of life. All knowledge is not valuable; there may
be cases where ignorance is better. What we are principally interested
in knowing is the Good, the Best, the Profitable. The man of much
learning, without this, is like a vessel tossed on the sea without a
In HIPPIAS MINOR, appears an extreme statement of the doctrine, common
to Sokrates and Plato, identifying virtue with knowledge, or giving
exclusive attention to the intellectual element of conduct. It is
urged that a mendacious person, able to tell the truth if he chooses,
is better than one unable to tell it, although wishing to do so; the
knowledge is of greater worth than the good disposition.
In MINOS (or the Definition of _Law_) he refuses to accept the decree
of the state as a law, but postulates the decision of some Ideal wise
man. This is a following out of the Sokratic analogy of the
professions, to a purely ideal demand; the wise man is never
producible. In many dialogues (Kriton, Laches, &c.) the decision of
some Expert is sought, as a physician is consulted in disease; but the
Moral expert is unknown to any actual community.
In LACHES, the question 'what is Virtue?' is put; it is argued under
the special virtue of _Courage_. In a truly Sokratic dialogue,
Sokrates is in search of a definition of Courage; as happens in the
search dialogues, there is no definite result, but the drift of the
discussion is to make courage a mode of intelligence, and to resolve
it into the grand desideratum of the knowledge of good and
evil--belonging to the One Wise Man.
CHARMIDES discusses _Temperance_. As usual with Plato in discussing
the virtues, with a view to their Logical definition, he presupposes
that this is something beneficial and good. Various definitions are
given of Temperance; and all are rejected; but the dialogue falls into
the same track as the Laches, in putting forward the supreme science
of good and evil. It is a happy example of the Sokratic manner and
purpose, of exposing the conceit of knowledge, the fancy that people
understand the meaning of the general terms habitually employed.
LYSIS on _Friendship_, or Love, might be expected to furnish some
ethical openings, but it is rather a piece of dialectic, without
result, farther than to impart the consciousness of ignorance. If it
suggests anything positive, it is the Idea of Good, as the ultimate
end of affection. The subject is one of special interest in ancient
Ethics, as being one of the aspects of Benevolent sentiment in the