MR. LILLY ON RIGHT AND WRONG.* IN this book, Mr.
Lilly pursues to a further end the idea which has been the leading idea and the principal object of his other books. Readers of the Fortnightly Review will recognise part of the early chapters of this work as having appeared there hi November, 1886, under the title "Materialism and Morality.' They will also remember an article in reply by Professor Huxley, and Mr. Lilly's rejoinder, which he reprints as an appendix to this volume.
The treatment, from different points of view, of such a subject as Mr. Lilly's, naturally leads to a good deal of repetition in the arguments ; and those persons who have studied A Century of Revolution will find many thoughts, there familiar to them, again pressed on their attention here. That book was a study of the spirit of the Revolution, the materialism which is its meaning and its consequence. It was therefore chiefly occupied with the special development in France of this materialism, and its effect on all forms of life, art, and politics there. This book takes a wider view, and deals not only with the spirit of the age in one country, but in human life as a. whole. It goes forward into the great conflict between the two powers of the world, the two broadly defined schools of thought, Transcendentalism and Materialism. It would he narrowing the question to say, Belief and Disbelief ; and Mr. Lilly guards himself so carefully from narrowness of this kind, that his reviewers ought to do the same.
We think it is hardly saying too much to call this book a, noble book. It is not altogether without faults : the author demolishes his opponents, sometimes, with almost too heavy a sledge-hammer : his language seems now and then almost un- necessarily strong; for instance, in his sweeping condemnation —with exceptions, it is true—of modern journalism. Yet, perhaps, with his opinions, he could hardly have spoken less strongly. The world is going to ruin before his eyes. His object is to wake men up to the true meaning of the popular doctrines of the present day,—of Materialism in all its forms, in all its developments. His desire is to show us the true science of ethics, to remind and to assure us that the great moral facts of right and wrong have a higher source than physical law or "experience," and to bring back men and nations to the old belief in "the Practical Reason, the Moral Understanding, conscience,"—to the felt reality of "that uni- versal law which is absolute and eternal Righteousness."
Books on moral philosophy are not, generally speaking,
* On Right anti Wrong. By William Samuel Lilly. London: Chapman and Hall, Limited. 1890.
very popular. We might say that they are not the fashion. Most fairly cultivated people read, or make a pretence of reading, the works of Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Clifford, and the rest. Young people feed on Mill almost from the nursery. The limits of these writers are clear ; their doctrines, ex- plaining everything from physical law, seem logical and not to be questioned ; their systems, one as much as another, are ready-made religions, and from their very limits, their appeals to nothing beyond human experience, are easily popularised. The champion of Transcendentalism has a wider field of fight : lie appeals from the visible to the invisible, and asks men to believe that the real is only the shadow of the ideal. Rising beyond "experience," he takes men into a region of thought where the wings of modern souls are sometimes hardly strong enough to follow him ; and if he argues philosophically, as a student of metaphysics to any purpose must do, he uses technical expressions belonging to his own science, but hard
to be understood by the ordinary reader, whose ignorance in "the domain of moral philosophy" is boundless. It is to this ordinary reader that Mr. Lilly's new book ought to be in- valuable ; for in a clear and charming style it makes him understand what is at stake in these materialist days,—
nothing less than "the moral life and death of men and of nations."
Thus, for those who care to give their minds to them—and no others are likely to read this book—Mr. Lilly's fearless arguments are an admirable help towards understanding for themselves the meaning and value of ethics, and weighing for themselves the materialist doctrines which—as set forth by the great teacher, Mr. Herbert Spencer—Mr. Lilly sums up thus :—
"It is absurd to speak of eternal principles of Right and Wrong, these being purely human conceptions, without meaning when applied to the nature of things. Virtues are founded on expediency; not on a direct calculation of what is expedient, but on the regis- tration of it in the organism. What is called moral obligation has its authority in part from this instinct, and in part from the action of human law and public opinion. All that does happen, happens by that redistribution of matter and motion which con- stitutes evolution : a process of beneficent necessity, the cause whereof is neither moral nor immoral. There is no such thing as a real human personality, but only a succession of states of consciousness. Free-will is a subjective and objective delusion, and man having no power of choosing the least pleasurable of two courses, all moral conduct is determined by the surplus of agreeable feeling, either in the present agent or in his ancestors. Self-sacrifice is a higher egoistic satisfaction. Altruism need not imply self- sacrifice, and in the ideal state never will. To this should be added, in order to make the sketch complete, that in the prin- ciple outer relations produce inner relations,' we have an explanation of the advance from the simplest to the most complex cognitions : " from the simplest to the most complex feelings : ' attraction and repulsion transform themselves into the phenomena of egoism and altruism, and morality results from the persistence of force. Now, what are we to say of this system of ethics ? I say that it is a house of cards, built upon a foundation of sand."
In the different systems of different materialist philosophers, there are, no doubt, many varying shades of opinion ; but yet they are all in one camp. In the end, with them all, "free- will is a subjective and objective delusion : " man is a machine, and can only act in one way, the way determined for him by all the tendencies of all his ancestors, gradually developed from a low place in creation. These doctrines are very attractive, and to many minds—the number increases every day—quite convincing, especially as their preachers, in England at least, do not preach bare Hedonism, but set forth a new morality which they suppose to be better than the old. It is not in England, at present, that Materialism is carried-to its logical issue, though it is advancing fast upon the road. Mr. Lilly observes that, as missionaries have honestly said "it takes several generations for Christian morality to get into the blood," so "it will doubtless take several genera- tions for Christian morality to get out of the blood." And our scientific men, by their own showing, must be influenced by their "generations of Christian progenitors," not to mention that they were probably brought up on the Catechism.
In his early chapters, Mr. Lilly gives a full account of what materialist and evolutionary ethics are and mean. We do not think the account is unfair, or that any of his deductions from it are unreasonable. These chapters are followed by one on "Rational Ethics," which, broadly speaking, is perhaps the most valuable in the book. For it must be good for us to know clearly what the faith is by which we live; and many people, no doubt, drift into materialist views through ignorance of the great and overpowering strength there is on the transcendental side of the question. We do not say that this is not a difficult chapter; at the first glance it appears full of those technical terms which frighten the ordinary reader. But it is a chapter which most fully repays the thought it demands. That "our intuitions of Right and Wrong are first principles anterior to all systems ;" that there is a ruling Reason, a Moral Law, supreme, eternal, unchange- able, "absolutely independent, both of religious systems and of the physical sciences ;" that "the sense of duty is a primary fact of human nature;" that what we call Conscience, in short, rules us by a right far higher than any physical law or experi- ence; and that the fact of our existence, of our personality, makes our free-will a necessity,—all this, deeply indeed in- volving "the moral life and death of men and of nations," is set forth to be studied in this chapter on "Rational Ethics."
The later chapters of the book follow out these rational ethics to some of their logical conclusions, applying "the doctrine of Right and Wrong" to the most important subjects of the present day,—such as Punishment (certainly an unrighteous thing, if "our actions are the necessary outcome of molecular changes in the brain, of atomic movements of matter ") ; Politics, which in the modern view are to be ruled by a morality different from that of individuals ; Journalism ; Property; Marriage ; Art. Many readers will find the chapter on " Property " the most interesting in the book, and will be impressed by the stern reminder : "A man has not a right to do what he likes with his own ; he has only a right to do what he ought with his own." Co-operation is Mr. Lilly's panacea for much of the present suffering in the world. Though earnestly opposed to any kind of exclusiveness, he sees no virtue in Socialism :—
" I cannot but think that even the more reasoned and scientific kinds of State Socialism, advocated by German thinkers of no mean ability, would paralyse much that is best in human society. It seems to me not easy to overrate the disastrous effect upon national life which must result, in proportion as the State assumes the functions of the father, the master, the guild, the Church. I believe the new industrial organisation which the world must have, will be a natural growth, not an artificial machine; a growth rooted in the essential needs of human nature, which are ethical needs ; in the regulative principles of human action, which are
ethical principles ; the mighty hopes that make us men,' which are ethical hopes."
It is, of course, impossible that in one short chapter this great question should be argued with any depth or fullness. The writer only suggests the lines on which those must work who
wish to treat property in the way pointed out by rational and ethical considerations.
Still more valuable, perhaps, is his chapter on" Marriage," a subject which interests him deeply. "Our existing civilisa- tion unquestionably rests upon marriage, as the Christian religion has shaped it." This, and the concluding chapter on "The Ethics of Art," are full of warnings as to the tendency of the present day, and whither it will lead us. The fine chapter on Art reminds us, though it is by no means a repetition, of
"The Revolution and Art," in A Century of Revolution. Here Mr. Lilly pleads with power and eloquence the cause of the ideal, against that naturalism which treats man as the bete humaine, and feeds him with food proper for that creature. It cannot be enough remembered—we thank Mr. Lilly for
pressing it upon us once more—that "the real being of a thing is not in itself, as a phenomenon, but in the ideal which causes it to be what it is :"—
" Do not misunderstand me. It is not the function of the artist to preach morality, to inculcate virtue. The laws of art are proper to itself. And they are the laws of beauty. But the beautiful is of the intellect, not of the senses, which merely supply the artist with his raw material. The eyes are only instruments of vision through which the soul looks. Asthetic enjoyment is the reflection of an inner light or splendour from our reason upon material objects. The end of the intellect, let me repeat, is truth. And in words which, though not Plato's, to whom they are often ascribed, are as admirable as hackneyed, the beautiful is the splendour of the true.' Banish the ideal from the life of men, and by the operation of the inexorable law, Corruptio optinti pessima, men will sink below the level of the lower animals, and will love the abnormal, the monstrous, the deformed, for its own sake. Such is the natural fruit of that philosophy which rejects the only rational conceptions of Right and Wrong, and degrades to the region of molecular physics, conceptions properly appertaining to the domain of the organic and the spiritual. Examples are not far to seek. And they are the sure signs of a decadent and effete civilisation."
Such a book as this, we think and hope, will do much to bring forward "that ampler day" when men will frame their lives by a science higher than any scientific naturalism.