TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY.* [THIRD NOTICE.]
IF it has been a nearly impossible task to review in any true sense Dr. Martineau's first and mainly historical volume, the task of giving any adequate conception and estimate of the speculative wealth of the second volume, which includes the constructive part of his book, is even more entirely hopeless. There is not a chapter, there is hardly a page, to which we should not
be glad to call attention, for the purpose either of exhibiting the power of the book, or of discussing with its author the arguable points of his position. However, we must do what we can, though it can only be by giving a few specimens of the substance of the book, and of the problems to the solution of which Dr. Martineau has applied his great speculative genius, to convey to our readers our estimate of its power.
Dr. Martineau agrees, of course, with all the greater moralists, that what is approved and condemned by the moral faculty, is not the external action but the spring of action. And he differs from Mr. Sidgwick's supposition that we pass moral judgment on the actions of others before we pass them on ourselves, maintaining, and with a force for which it will hardly be possible for any thinker to find a satisfactory reply, that we cannot pass moral judgments on any one, except in virtue of the principles by which we either actually measure, or have recognised that we ought to measure, ourselves. As Dr. Martineau points out, the convincing proof that it is so, is that if we discover that we have misjudged the motive, though not the action of another, our moral judgment immediately changes with the discovery ; while, on the contrary, if an act of our own, done from unworthy motives, nevertheless turns out so well as to elicit approbation from others, that will-make no difference in our self-condemnation. In other words, we judge the actions of others as we should judge our own on the hypothesis that we have interpreted rightly the state of mind from which they proceeded ; and yet we judge our own quite differently from the manner in which others judge them, where we know the state of mind from which they proceeded, while others misjudge it. If this be admitted, how is it possible to assert more explicitly that all our moral judgments are exclusively supplied by our own consciences, and are such as we should pass on ourselves if we had acted as we suppose those others to have acted ?
Again, Dr. Martineau shows that we do not call an action wrong unless we are conscious of a competition between two different springs of action, and conscious of preferring the worse. This results in the following canon of right and wrong :—" Every action is right, which in presence of a lower principle follows a higher ; every action is wrong, which in presence of a higher principle follows a lower." Hence, Dr. Martineau's view of the main function of moral philosophy is that it should draw out the comparative order of the ultimate springs of action,— none of which is intrinsically evil, or, if taken alone, and without the competition of a rival, other than natural,—and that it should so estimate both the simple and compound springs of action as to explain the ethical differences between one character and another, and between the various claims of all on the moral reverence or disapprobation of mankind. Now, admitting as we do, that this accounts for the general tenor of our moral judgments, we find one serious difficulty in accepting this moral canon as complete; and, besides this, we would suggest one modification of form to bring it, as we think, more accurately into agreement with actual experience.
The serious difficulty is this. Dr. Martineau's canon seems to us to make no sufficient difference between decisions for which we feel that we ought to be, but are not, good enough, and decisions which it degrades us not to take,—between decisions which affect us with no sense of guilt, though they may show us that we are poor creatures, and decisions which we know to be sinful. Suppose that a man is hesitating whether he shall follow the promptings of benevolence and go to live a hard and dingy life in the East of London, instead of surrounding himself with peace and beauty in the country, it is clear, we suppose, that if he accepts the latter and easier destiny, knowing himself to be strong enough for the former, be does wrong, under Dr. Martineau's canon. But can you say that he commits a sin, in the sense in which it would be a sin for him to betray a trust under even the strongest temptation ? It seems to us that Dr. Martineau's canon, while it explains the general difference between the highest conduct and conduct which is not the highest, hardly explains the difference between conduct that is definitely sinful, and conduct that is only wanting in the highest elements. Under Dr. Martinean's canon, it would seem to be just as wrong for a man who recognised in himself a definite capacity and fitness for a great but difficult and self-sacrificing life, to shrink back from that life, as it would under the shelter of excuses of a more or less respectable character, to keep back the truth when he was pledged to tell the truth. Yet surely we call the latter a very definite sin, and the former only a confession of pardonable weakness. This is our main difficulty in accepting as adequate Dr. Martinean's moral canon.
Our second suggestion is one that only affects the form of Dr. Martineau's canon. We are fully convinced that, so far as Dr. Martineau insists on the necessarily alternative character of the motive presented to us before any decision which we deliberately term moral or immoral, he is absolately right. Nor do we doubt that he is substantially right when he maintains that what is necessarily implied in every such decision is the adhesion either to some higher spring of action to the exclusion of a lower, or to some lower spring of action to the exclusion of a higher, as the characteristic of the decision. But whether that is, psychologically speaking, the precise form in which the principle of conscience is most naturally expressed, we have some doubts. Our doubt is whether the primary moral judgment be not rather, in form, a judgment comparing the character which proceeds on the higher principle with the character which proceeds on the lower, EO far as the occasion draws these characters out, instead of one comparing merely the spring of action to which effect is given by the higher character to the spring of action to which effect is given by the lower. The difference is this :—A child, suppose, has a struggle in its own mind between its own hunger and the claims of some still hungrier and less happy child to the food at its command. Now, how does the struggle present itself in that child's mind ? Is it thus,—` Has pity more claim on me than my desire for food ?' Or is it thus Should not I be selfish if I let the other and hungrier child go without food that I may eat ?'—in other words, ` Would not so-and-so,'—probably a companion or a parent, or any one who suggests to the child the image it moot reverences,— ' think first of the stranger's hunger and next only of his own? Nay, does not my own better nature prompt me to. think first of his needs and next only oE my cravings P' We do not believe that ` right ' and ' wrong ' are ideas primarily attached to actions, but to persons. It is the thought of a character,—whether one's own or another's,—in which pity is preferred to appetite, that brings home the sense of obligation, and not (in form) the thought of the superiority of the principle of pity itself. The point we raise, however, is not entirely a question of form; for it often involves a difference in the resulting moral judgment. Suppose, what often happens, that the reference to the question how another,—another who represents for the moment the moral standard of the person subjected to temptation,—would act, should bring within the horizonof the questioner's thought a character penetrated by higher principles than either of those previously in conflict, then the knowledge that the character referred towould take a higher view altogether of the situation, may transform the whole aspect of the crisis, and elevate a third principle of action, different from either of the others, to the place of obligation. All we wish to insist on. is, that primarily, right and wrong are adjectives attaching, not to actions, but to the persons who perform the actions ; it is they who are right or wrong in what they do, rather than. the thing done which is right or wrong ; and next, we insist that the judgment of conscience is passed on the character which yields itself to the higher or lower spring of action, not on the spring of action itself. The only reason we think the question. important is that we hold the conscience to have a larger grasp. than Dr. Martineau attributes to it, since if it gains a glimpse of any character which would under the circumstances of the case act from some higher principle than any of those which are at the moment struggling for the mastery, thewhole moral issue may be thereby enlarged and lifted into a new field. In a word, we should say that conscience consists in the intuitive discernment of the higher attitude of character as a whole, in relation to the moral emergency of themoment, rather than in the intuitive discernment of the higher spring of action. The latter is no doubt involved in the former. But the former may go a good deal beyond the latter, and at all events the intuitive judgment directly concerns the former rather than the latter. It is not till the
who is pitiful is compared with the person who is selfiah,. or the person who is faithful and sincere in spite of danger, is compared with the person who is faithless and insincere in order to shelter himself from danger, that the conscience says definitively this one is right and that one wrong.' The practical difference between our view and Dr. Martineau's is this,—that in ordinarN
moral jpagrnents it. is . seldom that, so few only as. two. rival. springs of.actioircatt be compared,though two atleast.must be..
And the fact that a living,character LI0i.S1,11121'0,
" spring of action,"—tends to enlarge the moral field of view, and. to cause us to weigh in the moral scaler other actual or
possible springs of action which may and often do alter the whole complexion of the case.
However, we must not dwell on a minute and somewhat subtle 'difference from Dr. Martineau, when our object is to call atten tion to the large and rich analysis of those ethical discriminations of which his treatment is so admirable. What can be abler or more powerful than the following reply to Bentham' assertion that all systems which rest upon a supposed specific
moral faculty rest on a mere ipee dixit of the thinker's mind, and therefore-on "a phantom of pretensions, which being but
the shadow of one's self, the self may shift away"?—
" Bentham denounces all appeals to a moral faculty as sheer ipse dicritism,—a fraud by whichincompetent philosophers would palm their owntastes, and fanciesupon mankind.. And Paley, it is well, known, ridicules. as, futile. a moral. authority-which a. man can_dis-regard if he choosee,.and which: leaves it his own affair to give the obedience or pocket the consequences. Now, if nothing more were meant' by these statements than-that the preen med authority is-simply felt in the-individual coneciousneset.and • is reeognised only-because it: is so felt, we.shonld admit, them. at once. ILia exclusively onythie-'
subjective' report .that we own and assert the moral claim ; and if other credentials are demanded, we cannot give them, but must-be content to maintainthe sufficiency of these: The depositions-of couseionsnessonthis matter are. all we. have; but; they are quite. adequate to the weight-they undertake:to:bear.: If it.be...meant,.that.
because the authority first turns, up in my own consciousness, it.ia
manufactured there, and carries with it no weight but that of personal whiari—the mereaccident of indiriduality;—I cannot accept
theinferenee It:certainly standein.dineeticontradiction to the-very
nature of the consciousness, itself, which_ distinctly: announcea alaw. over me not of my own.making, and,wonld.he quite false, were there nothing present, but a controversy between my own caprices. How can that be a mere self-assertion.oEmy-own. will; to which-my own will is the.flrab-toubenchinhomagei if notsto ruovein obeelienoe
Bentham.deseribes the moralsense man! awe-sort-of bully,intenk on-browbeating men into accepting. the verdict he wants them to pronounce. But it is apparently forgotten that he wields against
:others no power that has not already prevailed-with-himself.; and how, we are to, apply to his• Innencontrovereieathe picture,. drawn with such:humorous. exasperation, of his:aggression upon the independence_ of his fellowstit is embarrassing to imagine.. Does he manage himself by putting. out domineering airs towards his own inclinations, and approaching them with soure-sparione.batow of police, which is,bnt-apaintod.stiek of his.ownlfarnery ? Dees he.likerto,slapthis own likings" in_the.face3, and. amuse himself with deapatisme.tof wbich..he self the first victim,? And if the moral sentimeut be no more than a case of sic rolo, sic jubeo, how is• it that, by repeal of the volition, there is still no -escaper from the command? The power-that-creates.
law is adequate to alter law; andithe sense' of. authority which weset tip' for ourselves we could..assuredly pub down_for. ourselves.. Yet, as we are well aware, we can pretend, to no such prerogative with respect to the claims of the moral consciousness : try as-we may, we cannot turn lower-into.higher; orbrenaetment establish theobliga, tient,. of' perfidy. There. is something heremanifestly' beyond,. the play of opinionative despotism. The notion_ of " rightnese," says Mr. Sidgwick, 'is essentially positive,' 'and in the recognition of conduct as " right " is involved an authoritative prescription to do Perhaps, however; it may be-admitted that thenense of authority is-an adequate. ground, of. obligation for myself who, feel • it ; but it may be maintained that it, must. have no. further application in the criticism and estimate of others. That honour is nobler than.frand for me is, in this cane, no reason for-supposing-itto be se with others ; thisarrangement of the scale-. may possibly be, contingent onsome, personal. peculiarity--ondts, being. my male and not. yours ; =dime/
be altered by removing, into another mind. The higher excellence does not then belong to the principle of honour, as such, BO as to go
with it wherever it goes; bat •onlyto the accidental form which it
hasin.one person and luu3,not inrannther: Probe/births litimplo.state., meat. of this interpretation, of the 'Babies:tire.' doctrine is sufficient
refutation of it. It neless contradicts the very nature of, the moral feeling than the former view ; the authority which reveals itself within us reports itself, not only as underived from outwill, but as' independent of our idiesymarasiesaltogethen It is-an integral fem.tion.of the springof actiowthat.wieldait.against allinferiormenabere -of the scale; is inseparable thence even in idea : transplant the impulse whithersoever you will, in no mind can it have conscious pre sence and. freeopportunity withoutitsrelative antherity reappearing with it. That: authority is not, an outward seeptre. that: may be dropped from its graap,or laid.aside like the insignia. of a monarch_ travelling in foreign lands; but the natural language and symbol of its-very life and meaning, the loss of which would be the death of its
identity: No oner•who feelwthenathority alhcan-at thename.time, believe. thatit is•arnegoiatict peenliarity, which affordshinnnorationaL ground of expectation.frearr others.: by one and_ the. sameoperation_ it imposes on.him a duty, and invests him with aright; and to deny the reciprocity, yet' hold him bound, is to retain the ghost of obligetam, when you have cut away that postulate, of. a common' human' nature, which alarm, linksit to. life, In all'. our dealingsovithl cue, another, nay, in allone.self-knowledge: in. presence. of, one another, we necessarily assume aninvariable constitution of_ humanity in our separate personalities, and never relinquish this natural ground, except where we-are forced from-it by positive evidence of specialty: The,burtien.of proof.always lies upon those who • would introduce a . limit on this primitive assumption, and redfiee tire-rule:to an exception: Btit anuthanrpropesee.ta invert this order; and sharply oaktalaceeent anyrman who isese constituted as,, to imagine: his .own.. tliangber and feelings:theslightest: clue to,othcr. people's.; you are to, consider yourself_ perfeetly unique and universally repellent„,till you have evidence of same concordance or approximation of nature. It is cleer-thatsucir a principlewould" invert, the wholelogM• of. ourintellectual procedureniuthe.mntuaLeemparisonloi.notionstansibeliefe,, and make the demonstrative sciences, with their axiomatic maxims, thelast, residuary products. afterworking through every topic • of difference and debate. Anchaleonfueion equally.artificial would.accrae from .a.simila.r.reading backwardeof our ethical procedure._ Now, if I am justified in assuming in my neighbours an.apprebension like ray own of the equality-of two vertical angles, can any reason be given why I may notin likemannerassume that they-feel withme therespective authority ' of honour • and : perfidy. ? The, snpposition of, subjective' moralseisoo lees absurd than that, of subjective ' mathematics."
And, again, what can_ be more powerful than the chapter on. " Merit and.. Demerit," with its masterly reply to Mr. Leslie, Stephens. very unsatisfactory mode of explaining merit and, demerit. by analysing_ away the possibility of either.? Dr. Martineau holds:that meritand demerit attach only to voluntary action47-right or wrong,and..in greater degree according as the voluntary right.action.was more.difficult or the volnntnry wrong action wagonore easy,to.rejeet
"-Farfromadmittingthemeasure' of meriton which Thave insisted,. Mn. Stephen: reverses. it; deolaning that the man is,. meat: meritorious:who has most virtue; and that consequently„if. we.assume that a certain task has. to. beperformed, the man who parforms,it mosteaeilfis the mast virtuous. Yet he admits that a good action proveermerit soar as it implies. diffibultyto the average man: T6 resoneilorthesestataments,.he-falls-baok uperathe,distinction between the. outwarthandithe inward,: if the difficulty be_ in, the severity of the external conjuncture, it heightens. the merit of the internal conquest over it: If' the difficulty arises from the internal. intensityof' thtrpaseion"whichr obstruote theright; so that a, tremendous. effort is. needed togivervirtne thenvictory3 it, detracts, from the, meritThia. I cannot admit.: it shows no doubt, .that., the habit of virtue is at_ present weak_ and precarious ; but it also showsa vast strength of virtuous will in dealing with the motnentaryproblenr of 'duty; and is-precisely tbe noble-alemeat which elevatesinto heroism the initial stagesof everyconversion .from,negligent to.devoted. life.. Thecon,. fusion. arises from, the false identification of degrees of merit.with, degreeeof. virtue.. One who has the greatest struggle to make in order to achieve the task. of duty is undoubtedly inferior in virtue to the'
man who throws. it' off' with, ease; but one who makes the struggle,
however -great,.has.highertmerit ntheact thanthe man to whom, it, costa 'nothings It undoubtedly followsfrom this .method of award.-. that if, in the intensity of the-struggle, the will succumbs instead of
triumphs, the demerit, is less than ibwould have been, under surrender tearless-vehement; foes and Mr: Stephenorgeer this consequence' as.
conclusive., against our doctrine: We arc thus, led,' he, says,. to, excuse a man for thequalities which, make him wicked ; " true,.he committed a murder ; but he was so spiteful that he could not help or, "he was exceedinglykind ; but he is as good-natured that it costhim no effort?' obviously such reasening is absurd:' It -is. absurd,. however, only on. thenaturalistic assumption, that.. virtue, (like aper-h) is the beet state of each spying of action, and that merit is, identical with virtue, or proportioned to it : in that case, every deviation from the best state, every want of" equilibrium in the desires, tbsugh lit be-purely constitutional, detracts alikeaom eman'n-virtne and from his-merit, not.only impairing the perfection of the charaeter. he has, but exposing him to reproach for having it. But if, refusing
thus to identify the natural and the moral, we assume that, over and above the character aeit-now comes•from tbe.past, thereis a living personal:power ofvictoriously siding. with any of, tbs. suggestions. which it brings, then it is not absurd tonay, that that power may be. meritoriously exercised from end to end of the ascent of virtues and that he who stillpants in the stifling air and toils through the mire o1 itslow beginnings, may deservens well as one who, perhapahorn upen.analp,.lookedownopen.him ,from.serener heighte,.. and lea nolonger dangers to surmount.. Does not,the education_of every family proceed upon this principle -P Would yon.not give more credit to a timid child that told the truth against himself; than to the bold. and frank-who couldoonoeal nothingit he would'? to the, lie-a-bed girl' who setaherself, neve& to be late, and never is,tit:unto. her -sister who: can no more sleep after sir o'clock than the cock after dawn.? to the. passionate boy who forces himself; under provocation, to abut his lips andsitstill; than to• his meels.brother who never had -a flush upon hischeeks ora.hot-wordupon hie tone.? Tbenimple'fact is, that the-conceptimunof merit! and of reaponaibility..' arestrictly relative' to_theassumption or consciousness of Free-will ; and only in the light of this assumption do they admit of any consistent interpretation: Yen may certainly invent new meanings forthe words which you-dispossess oh theold ones: You may. employ,' merit? to signify the, human: quality. which you praise. because, yourpraise may enhance it ;' and. responsibility.' to denote the fact that.' for such and such acts you will smart ;' but, as the terms thus become a fresh coinagewith-values-changed; theywill not work-in-with the currency of whielr they havolithertolormecl a. part ; • and will especially -introdnoe otter, confusion' into, every portion. of.. cum. literature in_ which ideas of Justice plaranAmporiant part."
Here -we.mnst stop for the present., and reserve-for a, concluding notice some illustration_ of. Dr. Martineau's. masterly discussion of the. various types of different ethical dispositions, and. his esiticism of at least one or two of the modern systems which -explain awayadistinetive moral faculty into mere anodifie.stions of the other -Sensitive or rational faculties of human nature.