MR. S1DGWICK'S METHODS OF ETHICS.* [FIRST NOTICE.]
ONE of the many merits of the volume before us is that it accu- rately carries out the aim announced in its title and explained in its preface. "It claims to be an examination, at once expository and critical, of the different methods of obtaining reasoned con- victions as to what ought to be done" which have emerged in the history of thought ; and this claim it carries out with the complete- ness of representation generally given only by sympathy, and the admission of . limit and exception generally possible only to an impartiality by which sympathy is excluded. On the whole, we know scarcely any moral treatise that is its equal in intellectual justice. The word expresses, besides the high and rare order of merit it points out, the limitation of the scope of the work, and paradoxical as it may seem to say so, it suggests also the fault we have to find with it. If a dissertation on Ethics should strike one chiefly by its justice, it will not, of course, be characterised by positive thought. This aim is disclaimed implicitly in the sentence we have quoted, and explicitly elsewhere, so that it is at the de- The Mahal, of Ethic& By Henry Siclgwkk, ILA. London : Macmillan e.nd Co
liberate choice of the author that it is not realised. Now it may seem foolish to tell a writer who has studied his subject far more deeply than his critic, that he should have treated it from a different point of view, but yet we cannot help coming as near this position as is implied in saying that we think our author would have attained his end more surely if it had not been his only end. A survey of various methods of thought will never be entirely distinct if it is merely critical. Perhaps, indeed, it may be the inevitable shadow of so high a merit as the judicial intellect which so eminently characterises Mr. Sidgwick, that his exposition of a complex subject should be somewhat wanting in distinctness, a relation of cause and effect which will not seem fanciful to any one who has ever tried to express a carefully formed judgment. We do not mean that any sentence or paragraph in this book is obscu,re,—there are not many that need to be read twice in order to find out their meaning. But when we try to sum up the result, we seem to lose our way in mazes of concession and qualification, and find it difficult to extricate the author's own conclu- sions from his careful exhibition of those with which he has no sympathy. However, we readily allow that this defect lies very near a merit. The demand for conviction in all moral discus- sion has its right place, but the instinct which makes this claim often oversteps its boundaries, and in its eagerness to divide truth and error turns aside from the disinterested criticism which is an indispensable prelude to such separation. Truth has few enemies more deadly and subtle than impatience of doubt. Fresh from the heated rhetoric of much writing on morals, we should keenly appre- ciate the calm and delicate estimate of every different shadeof opinion that is here presented to us. At the same time we may perhaps allow that it needs some such background. Merely to criticise so critical a work would, at any rate, put us at too many removes from positive thought, and we propose to bring into stronger relief the general purport of this review of ethics by the attempt to look at it under a less diffused light than Mr. Sidgwick has thrown on it, —to make the meaning of the two main views of moral obligation which contain all others clearer, by indicating the position in which each seems to us to stand towards the truth. If in so doing we supply him with the florid background which best exhibits by -contrast the sobriety of his own colouring, we shall at least have helped forward the appreciation of a book of permanent value.
Although we cannot in so brief a space follow the order of this essay, and shall wholly omit all allusion to the method of Egoism which the author has added to the so-called Utilitarian and Intuitional systems as a third possible theory of morals, yet we must so far go along with him as to begin with a notice of his preliminary chapter on free-will, a delay made by us the more willingly, as it is the one chapter in the book where his character- istic merits emerge wholly unmixed with the drawbacks we find else- where. After a perusal of a large part of what has been written on this subject, we would select this chapter as the only state- ment of the question which shows a due appreciation of its difficulty. This appreciation, indeed, will be felt by some persons to take a somewhat unsatisfactory form, and those readers who demand trenchant certainty on every point touched on, will turn with impatience from the confession (p. 75) that a writer on ethics cannot come to any decision on the question which some suppose to lie at the root of ethics. A confession welcomed by us not only as a guarantee for patient candour, but for the implied discernment that in strict logical accuracy the question is irrelevant to the discussion which follows it. But the opinion that "it would be quite possible to compose a treatise on Ethics which should com- pletely ignore the Free-will controversy" (p. 45), in which we agree, would appear to us practically false, if it were not joined, as we think every important assertion in this volume is, with its polar truth that "such a treatment would not only be felt to be shallow, but would omit the consideration of really important questions." The exact path of the shadow cast on our moral world by this eclipse of conviction is not shown quite so clearly as we are led to hope from the distinctness with which the anti- thesis of conflicting certainties is described, but it is a great object to get it recognised at all. Mr. Sidgwick sees that "the Determinist can give to the fundamental terms of Ethics perfectly .clear and definite meanings :" and "that the distinctions thus ob tamed give us a practically sufficient basis for criminal law" (p. 50). But he sees also that you cannot measure the influence of belief by tracing its line of direct logical inference. We could wish this often forgotten truth had been dwelt on more at length by one whose delicate sense of proportion enables him so accurately to bring out faint shades of thought. How- ever, we have no excuse for dwelling on a question which is mainly metaphysical, and must allow ourselves only to suggest
that the answer to this perennial puzzle (as far as any answer can be given at all) lies in the double element of all moral judgment, —the frank recognition, nowhere more clearly made than in these pages, that truly to estimate any question concerning Duty, we must in some way harmonise the startling differences discerned in it, according as the agent concerned is the first person or the third. Whether any stereoscope can combine these views, whether the ultimate decision attainable for us in this present stage may not- be that things look thus from one point of view, and thus from another, we would not say, but we are sure that the strife between the two parties arises from the one regarding the question exclu- sively from within, and the other exclusively from without.
We could gladly have delayed upon this subject, not only from its intrinsic interest, but because it includes the only part of the work in which we are entirely at one with the author. However, we must say, on the threshhold of our polemic, that so uniform is the justice characteristic of the volume, that almost everything we have to say is there in germ. Our argument is little more than the expansion of remarks scattered through the volume (we have not, in all cases, been able to recover the reference) of which the author does not appear to feel the full weight, so thatin most cases he might point to some passage in which a difficulty brought forward by us had been touched upon by him. But we do not think these difficulties are adequately dealt with in any case, and all have more or less connection with what seems to us an erroneous conception of his subject-matter,---a conception im- plied in the definition he gives of it as "the Science of Conduct" (p. 1). We should say that this includes much that ethics is not, and excludes the thing it undoubtedly is. If we wanted an elabo- rate demonstration that there was no such thing as a Science of Conduct, we should turn to the volume before us. It is evident, not only from explicit admission, but from the tone of the whole treatise, that the writer believes the truth on this matter to lie with the Utilitarians. Now we learn from his examination of Utili- tarianism that the conduct it sanctions would usually follow the laws of common-sense, but would deviate from them in those ex- ceptional cases to which the rules framed to meet ordinary cir- cumstances do not really apply, all selfish motives being care- fully excluded by those who allow themselves this liberty. Surely you cannot call that sort of decision even a contribution to a science of conduct. We would anxiously avoid the apparent imputation of triteness-; nothing in this book is trite. There are passages here which seem to condense into a line the perplexities of years, passages before which every now and then the reader pauses as in some picture-gallery before a portrait or landscape which recalls an intimate past. But in no ease is their effect destroyed by what would have been so disappointing, as the attempt to offer a solution of the problem suggested. Now if a Science of Conduct is not a decision as to what is right to be done in difficult circumstances, we do not know what it is. On the one hand, then, such a title suggests questions which ethical science does not undertake to answer ; on the other, it ignores the fundamental question of ethical science—What constitutes the claim of Duty ? What is the meaning of the word " ought " ? We are not quite sure how far this ignoring is intentional, whether (as would appear from a passage on p. 119) Mr. Sidgwick, in treating of the Methods of Ethics, does not systematically exclude from his attention the basis of ethics, but this would seem to us such a mutilation of any ethical treatise that we can hardly suppose it to be his intention, and besides it is not quite consistently carried out. At any rate, we are sure that the author's treatment of the question is too slight and allusive for so fundamental a question, and we are left in doubt whether his fragmentary dealings with it are inevitable invasions of a region excluded by the original design, or an incomplete survey of the land lying within the heart of included territory. Such doubt may be the fault rather of critic than author, but it is not the result of a slight or hasty perusal of the work.
We do not believe that this half of Ethical science need be left a blank, and we hope to enter upon it afterwards, but we will now only suggest an explanation of the reason why it should often be neglected by Utilitarians. Thinkers of this school, Mr. Sidgwick reminds us (p. 459), are naturally more occupied with the arrangements for general welfare implied in political questions and jurisprudence than those are who look upon objec- tive rightness as a more ultimate aim than general happiness, and it is an inevitable result that they should occupy themselves with the test of virtue almost to the exclusion of the sanction of duty. For in the corresponding science of jurisprudence, if we except the department of international law, the constructive thinker chiefly concerns himself with that part of his subject which °or-
responds to this smaller half (as we think it) of the moralist's task. How such and such acts are to be prevented is for the legislator a minor question ; his problem is mainly, if not solely,— What acts are to be prevented ? And thus the system of ethics that moulds itself on positive law falls into a like security as to its sanctions, when those sanctions are absent.
The affinity of ethics with jurisprudence has thus, we think, had the effect of casting the larger half of ethics into the shade for a particular class of ethical thinkers. The analogy of ethics with logic has a tendency towards the same result for alL Logic stands in the same relation to thought as ethics to action, each science affords a test for the discovery of error,—on the one hand, in opinion, on the other, in practice. Ethics we hold to be as little a science of conduct as logic (in the narrower English sense) of truth, but both sciences stand in the same relation to their respective ends ; each affords a preliminary criterion by which certain hindrances to right belief or right con- duct may be discarded. Now logic, when it has pointed out these hindrances, has nothing more to say. Having shown that certain consequences flow from certain data, it has not to convince the believer in these data that he has to believe the conclusion. The question,—Why should I believe what is true ? is absurd. Some thinkers, as Mr. Sidgwick reminds us (p. 83), would say that the question,—Why should I do what is right ? is also absurd. And we should be disposed to make much larger concessions to them than he probably would, for while, on the one hand, we hold Will to be a latent element in belief, on the other, we believe that it is not an obvious element in some of the worst sins. Still it cannot be denied that when a man sees a thing to be true, he. always believes it, and when he sees a thing to be right he does not always do it. And thus we must hold that the science which deals directly with the will has an element wholly wanting to the science which deals directly with the faculty of belief, even though we also hold that will has a share in belief. Moral science has to inquire how conviction is con- verted to volition, by what correlation of spiritual force the movement of the assenting intellect becomes the heat of the efficient will. It is true that belief may be just as painful, or rather far more painful than action, and that it is possible to turn from it on that ground alone. But this is a state of mind on which logic throws no light, and if ethics throws no light on the corre- sponding state of mind with regard to painful duty, it abdicates what we have hitherto supposed its most important function.
We have said that Utilitarians are not specially liable to the effect of this false analogy between ethics and logic, as they are to the false analogy between ethics and law. But in truth the argument tells only against them. The whole issue between them and those who have been labelled, not quite so infelicitously per- haps, but still with the misleading tendency of most labels, "In- tuitionists" lies in the question, "Does Duty supply its own sanc- tion ? " It is on a confusion with the allied, but still distinct ques- tion, "Has Duty no test ?" that a large part of the arguments for Utilitarianism depends. This confusion, indeed, we find in Mr. Sidgwick's definition of Intuitionism as the theory that "we have the power of seeing clearly to some extent what actions are right and reasonable in themselves, independently of the conse- quences, except such consequences as are included in the notion of the acts" (p. 178; cf: also p. 80). Here the true issue seems to us dropped. The titles of both parties are certain to disguise it, and Mr. Sidgwiek himself admits that the contrast they suggest is not a real antithesis. It may be because we are bigoted Intuitionists, but we can never use the word Utilitarianism without a mental protest against a name which seems to us to combine every possible disadvantage a name can have. That cumbrous polysyllable which has diluted its one-eighth of significance with seven-eighths of mere suffix, and which raises a set of associations quite ludicrously in- appropriate to the subject-matter it is applied to, does not suggest an issue between two sets of thinkers on Ethics, it does not even suggest any issue at all. In a very important sense we all are and must be both Utilitarians and Intuitionists. When we apply a test to duty, we must be Utilitarians. When we inquire into its sanction, we must be Intuitionists. After discovering that many things are desirable as means to something else, we must come at last to the things for the sake of which men prize other things. Sometimes we shall find them such as people have in mind when they say, "There is no account- ing for tastes "—experiences which may be an object to A and not to B—without our regarding either party as under a mistake. But all desire is not of this nature, as we see clearly by looking at desire on its negative side ; each one of us is quite sure that it is an object to every one else, whoever he may be, to get rid of the toothache. "But that is not an intuition," we shall be told, "that is a mere matter of experience." "Give it what name you please," we reply, "but then extend that name to whatever other experience stands in a like relation to desire, or to its opposite, fear. If the discovery that one has treated a sufferer with harshness, or a benefactor with ingratitude, represents an object of dread quite as remote from the region of taste as bodily pain, do not try to find any name for the conviction that one experience is hateful which will not apply to the conviction that another experience is hateful." "But the very hinge of Intuitionism," our opponent may reply, "is the assertion that one set of feelings is known to be hateful independently of experience, and not the other." Now here is the mischief of labels. If any man or set of men have maintained that in some magical way we discern what is ex- cellent in one part of our being without having ever tried it, and that in all other parts of our being we must taste experience to know what it is like, let the groundless- ness of such an assumption be fully demonstrated. But do not confuse such an assumption with the knowledge that certain things are ends which have never been the subject of our experience, for this is a certainty not confined to the moral world. If we take the deepest of all pleasures, mutual affection, it is obvious that we do not require ever to have been without that happiness in order to dread its loss. It is enough to- have experienced that fluctuation of tenderness which those do experience who love each other best, to know that estrange- mentwould be the greatest of ills ; as it is enough to have felt those gleams of kindliness which fall upon the lives least rich in love, to know that harmonious intercourse is the greatest of blessings. And this is all we mean with regard to the sense of rightness. A being who had no experience of a more and less in this region- is to us quite inconceivable, but we should readily grant that such a being could have no intuition whatever of the evil of envy or deceit. The concession, however, is surely irrelevant. It is unquestionable that just as the tenderest mother or wife has known moments of transitory chill towards child or husband, so the most perfect saint or hero has sometimes preferred the low aim to the high, and has the same ground for dreading the sur- render to evil as she has for dreading the estrangement which has not in either case been felt. Experience has as much to do with one dread as the other. Mark, we are not defining an issue. We are enunciating the truths which all must believe who know what the words mean which enunciate them.
We have here aimed at showing that what Mr. Sidgwick calls Intuitionism and Utilitarianism ought not, if words be used rightly, to be applied to two different opinions about a single issue, but rather to two different stages of thought on the same line of progress. But it is not meant to imply that the schools which he labels as "Intuitional" and "Utilitarian" are fighting about words. Such a resolution of the disputes that have lasted for centuries into mere verbal misunderstandings, though it is an expedient which cannot be denied to have commended itself to great men, has always appeared to us somewhat shallow. The antithesis between these two parties is real and ultimate. Utilitarianism, to take Mr. Mill's own account of the theory which is now chiefly associated with his name, implies "that pleasure, and the absence of pain are the only things desirable as ends, other things being desirable as a means to these ends," (Essay on Utilitarianism, p. 10, 1st. ed.) Now, of course, this was not on Mr. Mill's lips an identical proposition. Mr. Sidgwick warns us against those "sham axioms" which "delude the unwary with a tempting aspect of clear self-evidence," "but which appear self- evl dent only because they are tautological," and of which he says that "no one can conceive the extent to which thinkers of repute have acquiesced in tautologies of this kind" (353-354). We have some- times wondered whether the above account of Utilitarianism was not of this kind,—whether, if the above sentence were analysed, we should not find pleasure defined as that which is an end to men, and an end described as whatever gives pleasure. However, we are certain Mr. Mill must have meant something more in this treatise than that men want only what they wish for. He was implicitly denying the proposition that purity, fortitude, and generosity were ends as ultimate as the appeasing of hunger, the exercise of the intellect, the satisfaction of the heart. The question between the two schools is altogether as to the point at which analysis. is arrested. We all agree that it is so in the first set of aims, is it also in the last? Is mutual affection valuable for its own sake, and generosity, for instance, as a means of producing such affection ? This issue seems blurred to Mr. Sidgvrick's vision by his perception of the need which this system has of borrowing its first principle I from that which it assails, and the want of a clear discernment,
as it seems to us, that this loan invalidates its whole preten- aions.
For supposing pleasure to be our only aim, what is to force me to find an aim in any pleasure but my own? There is a palpable alphism in urging that the happiness of the human race is a thing of the same kind as the happiness of any individual, but very much larger in degree, so that if the person whose happiness has to be sacrificed for the general interest can once see that the two things conflict, he will by that very intuition desire to give up the small thing for the large. Take the case in which our morality has the greatest need of correction from a true Utili- tarism. A man has insane parents, and desires to marry. Does any one, not himself tempted to such a step, or forced into doubt by the love of one who is tempted, doubt which is best for the human race,—the certainty that one life is to be lonely and 'wretched, or the strong probability that this evil is to go on in- definitely spreading for ever? No one, we venture to say, ever contemplated the question impartially, and failed to choose the first alternative as best for the race. But most rarely has it hap- pened that any one has contemplated the question partially, and failed to choose the first as best for himself. What, then, is to bring to bear on the person tempted all those considerations which are clear to every one else? How is the perception that a particular -course is better for the majority to be converted into a determina- tion in one to sacrifice his happiness for the sake of the majority? in other words,—what are the dynamics of Utilitarianism ?
We have seen both that our author's definition of this subject excludes this question, and also that he suggests certain answers to it, and we remain in doubt whether he supposes that it must stand or fall with those answers, or whether he supposes this question may remain an open one. The last view is in harmony with his assertion thit "it is a fair description of Utilitarianism to say that it resolves all other virtues and duties into rational benevolence" (p. 401). But such a description contains another confusion besides that on which enough has been said for our small space. Benevolence means well-wishing, or rather well-willing, towards every one. Now, unless you limit the general welfare which we are to make our aim to that part of welfare which we call happiness or pleasure, and which all must feel to be not con- terminous with it, this is a description not of one moral system, but of almost alL The desire to confer good is all that we mean by goodness. Here, again, Mr. Sidgwick's own views entirely justify him in thc use of the word taken in his own sense, for he has decided (book i., chap. 14) that ultimate good is happiness, that we cannot conceive any other meaning of the word which is not too vague to form the subject-matter of reasoning. That is exactly the issue between the so-called Utilitarians and Intui- tionists, and so of course this is a fair description of Utilitarianism for Utilitarians. The considerations which it ignores, and which Mr. Sidgwick does not seem to see that it ignores, must be treated in a future notice, in which we hope also to give our own view on the question at issue.