I pass now to the problem referred to at the outset, of the dualism of ethical principles and types of life. Its importance has been strangely neglected by writers on morals. Those who in recent years have discussed the claims of duty and the good have almost always, in their anxiety to do justice to the one, treated the other as subordinate. I want in this and the two following lectures to show their independence and to give to both their due as co-ordinate principles of conduct. Human actions are open to two different types of valuation, according as their motive is the sense of duty or the desire of good. That actions done from a sense of duty are moral is beyond question. But what about actions done sub ratione boni, from desire of a rational good? It is an error to confuse the two kinds of action by merging them, under the heading “moral”, into one. Over a large part of human conduct love of good is the guiding principle, unencumbered by recognition of the moral imperative. The agent's intention is directed, not upon the performance of an obligation, but upon a variety of objects—be they things, persons, acts or states of being—whose goodness stirs in him a desire for their realization or enjoyment.1 The artist or researcher in quest of æsthetic or scientific truth, the social worker who devotes his life to bettering the lot of his less fortunate fellow-citizens, the saint athirst for the living God, normally pursue their vocations without thought of moral obligation. At most the thought is in the background, ready to spring into consciousness when spontaneity flags or as a check to excessive gratification of desires. When the artist, under a strong, temptation to pander to popular taste, wills from sense of duty to resist the inclination for notoriety or gain, and to fulfil his vocation as an artist, his act indisputably has moral worth. But, when he is working front pure love of his art, unhindered by contrary inclination, the value of his activity—we are not speaking of the value of the æsthetic product, but of his activity in the production of it—is of quite another kind. It may be higher, or it may not; but it is not the same. Such activity may at a given time even be morally blameworthy, however good the object of his desire. It may be the artist's duty to forgo his art in order to help a friend or to fight in the service of his country. Both ideals exercise some degree of influence in the lives of all men yet it is easy to distinguish those over whom the one rather than the other wields a dominant force. We all know those whose life is a continual struggle against rebellious passions, in whose ears is ever sounding the stern dictate of the moral law, authoritative and uncompromising in its austerity, “a light to guide, a rod to check the erring and reprove”. St. Paul, Augustine, Luther, with a host of lesser names in the roll of history, occur to mind. On the other side there are those whose natures turn in free desire towards the good as the sunflower turns towards the sun, with their gaze fixed on the ideal of their endeavour. Their motive is love, untroubled by any thought of constraint or law.
“There are, who ask not if thine eye
Be on them; who in love and truth,
Where no misgiving is, rely
Upon the genial sense of youth
Glad hearts! without reproach or blot,
Who do thy work, and know it not.”2
Wordsworth recalls how in childhood and youth he had been among their number, though when he wrote these lines the stormy experience of his early manhood had stirred into full consciousness the “stern daughter of the voice of God” to “chasten and subdue” the Wayward impulses of his nature. Shelley was of their company throughout his short span of life. Such, too, were the schöne seelen, cherished by the visionaries of the era of German romanticism, and immortalized by Goethe in the pages of Wilhelm Meister. Or we may contrast Conrad's Lord Jim, who was as loyal to his ideal vision as he was faithless to the imperative of duty, with the Captain in Typhoon or with Javert in Hugo's Les Misérables, men who had no thought save for the obligations of their calling. The divergence of type is illustrated also by the facts of evil conduct. On the one hand, men often act wrongly despite knowledge of the right, disobeying the known command of duty through pride or lack of self-control. On the other hand, there are those who sin from lack of knowledge, from defective or distorted vision. They mistake the apparent good for the real, and, in Plato's expressive phrase, do what they want, not what they really will.3 They act sub ratione boni, and their real will is for the good. The key to this difference of type, alike of good and evil actions, lies in the distinction between theoria and praxis. There is action inspired by vision, be it of truth or beauty or the happiness of those we love, or, in the religious life, by the presence of God; and there is action inspired solely by the consciousness of present obligation. I maintain that, for ethics, each of these ideals is independent and autonomous. The suggestion wears an air of paradox, for it is alien to the historic tradition of moral philosophy. The ideal of duty for duty's sake has been slow in coming into its own. For the thinkers of ancient Greece, the theoretic life held an unquestioned primacy over the practical. How could it have been otherwise, where they were themselves devoted to theoria and to theoria of an absolute reality, which was also the absolute good? That praxis is for the sake of theoria, that the vision of the good is at once the Alpha and the Omega, the pre-condition and the final goal, of human conduct, that all action, right or wrong, is sub ratione boni, and that moral evil, when probed to its source, springs from involuntary ignorance: these convictions, though stated in divers ways and with sundry reservations, were deeply imbedded in Greek moral systems. The Greeks could not conceive an act to be rational, unless its reason were a good to be realized in and through the act. Even in Stoicism, the fulfilment of moral obligations is instrumental to the attainment of philosophic wisdom. When the Greeks spoke of the life of praxis, they had in mind not the life of devotion to duty for duty's sake, but the pursuit of fame or power—in other words, of a determinate good. Hence they failed to give an adequate explanation of moral evil, Vice was necessarily interpreted as ignorance—i.e., as defect in theoretical apprehension of good. Since all desire was of good, it was impossible for a man voluntarily, with his eyes open to the light, to choose the bad. Now, of action sub ratione boni this is manifestly true. In this case, choice of evil is choice of a really lesser good, which through lack of insight appears the greater, in preference to a really greater good. But men do habitually will the wrong, knowing it to be wrong. Immorality is not mere ignorance; it implies rebellion against the moral law.
“Of this be sure,
To do aught good will never be our task;
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to his high will,
Whom we resist.”4
To interpret this “delight” as implying desire of good is surely to juggle with words. Satan's will is to rebel against all positive good: he is, for Milton as for Goethe, der geist der stets verneint. The source of evil here lies not in lack of knowledge, but in the overmastering of right desire by pride and passion. The blinding influence of passion may obscure the vision of the good, but the voice of duty sounds above the tumult, and when we disobey its dictate, we know that what we do is wrong. Indeed, the power of evil in the soul is often more effective than the concurrent desire to do the right. “I know not how it is,” wrote St. Augustine; “but an object of desire becomes more seductive when it is forbidden.” In the second book of the Confessions he devotes several chapters to an incident of his boyhood, when he and his young companions robbed a pear-tree in a neighbor's orchard.5 The reader is surprised to find what seems a mere youthful peccadillo treated so seriously and in such detail, especially in view of the far graver moral offences of Augustine's youth and early manhood. But the explanation is simple. The sin in this case was sheer rebellion; no advantage was desired or gained by it. It exemplifies the essential nature of sin as sin, and for this reason receives lengthy treatment in the Confessions. Had any good accrued, even the bare satisfaction of hunger, there would have been a palliative. When Bunyan, again, depicted Lord Hategood as the presiding judge over the tribunal at Vanity Fair, both the character and the name ring true to life. St. Paul's record of his own experience is here decisive. “The good that I would I do not; the evil that I would not, that I do.”6 The Epistle to the Romans directly contradicts the theory which reduces moral evil to mere privation and denies the existence of any desire other than the desire of good. The advent of Christianity, with the deepening sense of the radical evil in man's nature, of the resulting conflict of principles within the soul, and of the divine sanction that attached to moral obligations, ensured a fuller recognition for the claims of duty. Nevertheless the theoretic ideal maintained its sovereignty unimpaired in the Christian scheme of life. As between Mary and Martha, it was Mary, the type of the life of contemplation, who had chosen the better part. The summum bonum was God, the source of all being and value; and felicity, the goal of man's endeavour, lay in the other-worldly fruition of God's presence. Discipline to right action in via was but the preparation for beatific vision in patria. The theoretic ideal, thus enthroned by both the antique and the Christian tradition, prevailed throughout the epochs of the Renaissance and the Aufklärung, and is still a dominant power in the philosophy of to-day. It was not till late in the eighteenth century that the ideal of duty for duty's sake won full recognition from Immanuel Kant.7
It will be my endeavour to do justice to the claims of both these ideals, the theoretical and the practical, as autonomous measures of human conduct. Accepting in principle the Kantian interpretation of the moral life, we shall set beside it, as possessed of intrinsic though not of moral value, the life directed towards good. Kant denied worth to this latter form of conduct on the ground that any action that had its source in desire was directed upon pleasure. When he passed. beyond the strictly moral pale, he became in fact what is known as a Psychological Hedonist.8 But in rejecting the one-sidedness of Kant's doctrine, we are faced by a serious difficulty of terminology. The words “ethics”, “moral”, “virtue”, “duty” acquired their traditional meaning long before Kant identified morality with the doing of duty for duty's sake. It is necessary, at the cost of some violence to accepted usage, to employ the term “ethical” generically, to cover both specific types of action, and (with Kant) to confine the term “moral” to one of those types—viz., to action in the line of duty.9 But the terminological difficulty must not blind us to the truth of the distinction. We should be shutting our eyes to the facts, if we ignored or minimized a fissure that cuts deep, far deeper than has generally been realized by philosophers, into the structure of man's ethical life.
Moral action, then, is the doing of duty for duty's sake. The motive, as we have seen, is integral to the action. Moral goodness is the goodness of so acting. We cannot indeed follow Kant in asserting that nothing in the universe or out of it is good without qualification, save the good will. But Kant was wholly right when, in setting himself to analyze moral experience, he took his start from the consciousness of obligation.
A further reference to terminology is here essential. We are wont to treat the statements “This action is right”, “it ought to be done”, “it is my duty”, as equivalent to one another. Now, “ought” and “duty” are certainly identical in meaning, and I prefer to use them in speaking of moral action rather than the term “right”.10 “Right” is notoriously ambiguous; we speak of the right date of an event in history or of the right solution of a mathematical problem, where there is no reference to action at all; and also of acting rightly, when the standard we are judging by is non-moral, as when we talk of doing the right socially, or declare what is right in the eye of the law to be morally wrong.11 The primary implication of the term is conformity to rule. When we say of a man who has responded efficiently to a practical situation that he did the right thing, we mean that he acted as any prudent person would have acted in similar circumstances. The term suggests, not merely or mainly adjustment to a particular situation of fact, but rather adjustment to a general pattern of behaviour. The savage who claimed to understand what is meant by right and wrong, and added by way of evidence, “It is right for me to take my neighbour's wife, wrong for him to take mine”, refuted his own claim by ignoring the implication of universality. The rule may be imposed by an external authority, like the rule of the road or the requirements of the Finance Act, or, as is always the case with the morally right, by an authority imminent in the moral consciousness of the agent. In the latter case we are entitled to speak of the action as intrinsically right; it is willed for its own sake, as the embodiment of the moral law, not for any extrinsic (or even intrinsic) good. Again, while the term “right” properly applies to actions, at least in its moral meaning, this reference is often veiled and indirect, as when we speak of right principles, right feelings, or, in the familiar words of the collect for Whit-Sunday, of “a right judgement in all things”. I cannot agree with Dr. Moore and Dr. Broad that “right” as a moral predicate is as applicable to emotions as to actions.12
It is more natural to talk of emotions as “good” or “bad” than to talk of them as “right” or “wrong”. True, we habitually speak of “right feeling”, but when we do so we mean either a feeling that we ought to produce in ourselves (or that someone else ought to produce in himself) by an effort of will, i.e., by an inner act, which is as genuinely an act as one that receives overt expression; or else a feeling that prompts normally to right action. It is the former that we have usually in mind; we call a feeling wrong when we think of it as calling for suppression, but bad when viewed in abstracto apart from its relation to moral action. What is really wrong is the indulgence. If we eliminate this relation and consider dispositions and feelings per se as states of a man's being, the terms good and bad are more appropriate. But there is a further reason, over and above the ambiguity, for preferring the terms “ought” and “duty” to “right”.13
To call an action right suggests that rightness is an objective character, which can be predicated of the action apart from its relation to the agent and his motive. And we have seen in the first lecture that no action, taken in abstraction from the motive, is properly an object of moral judgement. Now, “ought” and “duty” are meaningless apart from reference to the agent. There is no such character as “obligatoriness” or “ought-to-be-doneness”, attributable to acts per se.14 When we speak of acts or classes of acts as obligatory or morally right, it is by empirical generalization from what I and others have judged that we ought to do. Such inductions—the Provost of Oriel calls them “prima facie obligations”—are obviously important in the process of determining what is our duty here and now. But the strict formula of duty is never “this act (X) is obligatory”, but always, “I—or AB—ought to do X”. It is misleading, though easy, to translate this assertion, which is really an assertion involving an imperative, into the form “X is obligatory”, so that it takes on a superficial resemblance to the purely indicative assertions “X is beautiful” or “X is good”; and then to hold obligatoriness to be in some manner a constitutive character of X. The translation should run, “X is obligatory on me”, “X is my duty”; when stated thus, the resemblance vanishes. “Ought” implies a complex relational system, including both the doer and what is to be done.15 Moreover, obligation is commanded, and a command implies a person who commands, who may be my own rational personality, as Kant held, or, as Kant also held, my reason as informed by and responsive to a transcendent rational authority. But moral authority is never merely external; mere power, be it divine or human, cannot be the source of right and can impose no obligation.
We have now to elicit, after Kant's method in the Grundlegung, certain implications of the idea of duty. (1) What strikes us first is its negative character, as involving self-restraint, compulsion, discipline in the agent. However much in a particular case inclination may work on the side of duty—and Kant, too, was ready to recognize this possibility—the association is contingent. Duty implies a dualism in human nature, the presence of desires that are alien and recalcitrant to the moral law, strife within the self, and the painful effort to secure the ascendancy of the principle that is rightfully regulative in the economy of the soul. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to the other.” The dualism here presented in the language of religion is intrinsic also to moral experience, and finds characteristic expression in the antithesis of what ought and ought not to be done. “The notion of duty,” writes John Grote, “differs from that of virtue in its generally negative or prohibitive character; guarding against offence, rather than pointing to heights of aspiration.… Conscience is not a stimulating, but a restraining principle,” 16 It is by this negative character that the idea of duty is most clearly distinguished from that of good. But the negative aspect of duty, though, owing to human frailty, it is de facto the most obvious, is not the most significant. Duty is not merely prohibitive; as the same writer admits, it furnishes a positive ideal for the moral life. Here lies the error of those who would derive the consciousness of obligation from the notion of disapproval provoked in primitive ages by breaches of social custom.17 Bergson falls into this error, when he interprets obligation merely as social pressure, the product of biological evolution, with a necessity analogous to that of the instinct of the ant in the ant-hill. Man, he holds, is doubtless free, thanks to his intelligence, to determine his particular duties, but behind them all is the necessity of a rule, the imperative of social obligation in general. Bergson fails to distinguish between the “must” and the “ought”.18 The principle of duty is dynamic, not static, by virtue of a positive character which does not only compel to obedience but arouses desire. It is the “stern daughter of the voice of God”; pointing beyond the claims and counter-claims of the existing social order to the thought of an ideal community, of a “kingdom of ends”, a “city of reason” which, for the religious consciousness, is also the “city of God”.19 It speaks with the authority of reason, as a command vested with the universality of law, and as such independent of our personal feelings of like or dislike. It implies the sovereignty of reason as a practical principle in the soul. This implication was drawn out by Plato, when he discussed the apparent paradox in our use of the terms “self-mastery” and “bondage to self”, though in each case alike both the master and the servant lie within the self. It was Plato, too, who recognized the positive element of aspiration and spontaneity within the life of reason.20 The moral consciousness, in fact, generates its own desire—the desire to do our duty, to obey the law of right. It implies, moreover, that we are free to choose between right and wrong. Thus, as the voice of practical reason, as provocative of desire, and as presupposing freedom of choice, the moral command, for all its coercive authority, expresses something intrinsic to our nature. It speaks from within, and is independent of external sanctions, human or divine. This is why a right action can be regarded as an end in itself, as a “good”, in which the moral desire finds satisfaction, and why we predicate moral goodness of the man who habitually does his duty for duty's sake. Thirdly, the positive principle of duty—Kant's moral law—is duty universal, in that it is immanent, as one and the same principle, in all particular duties. Of course, duty universal cannot be willed or even conceived in vacuo; duty can only be willed as this duty of mine, here and now, under the empirical conditions in which I find myself. But in willing to do this because I ought to do it I am willing, duty universal; the particularization affects the act, not the obligation, which is untouched by the special circumstances of the situation. The universal is at once immanent in all duties and transcendent of all. As the transcendent principle of the kingdom of ends, the moral law is, like Plato's Form of Good, unique and individual. In the simplest act of duty there is implied an ideal which, when thought out, is found to be, in Professor Taylor's words, “something more than a common character of this or that dutiful act,” something “like the καγον of Plato's Symposium, a transcendent ‘separate’ Form, beyond and above all its particular embodiments.”21 Such an ideal cannot be conceived by way of progressive enlargement of the scope of finite duties. But in man's moral experience it is realised as a universal, immanent in an indefinite plurality of concrete duties. No rule or maxim, however general, is adequate as an expression of the moral law; no series, no sum, no classes of particular duties can exhaust the content of the “ought” that is the principle of all moral willing. Hence the paradox of moral experience, that, while “ought” implies “can”, duty universal is for ever beyond our power of fulfilment. When I have done the particular duty, when I have saved the man's life or paid the debt, what I have done falls short of what I willed to do.22 To recognize this is shattering to moral self-complacency. The higher the plane on which a man is living, the more poignantly is he conscious of the failure. So, again, in the course of the moral life, duty arises out of duty in an endless series. To the end, for all our endeavour we remain unprofitable servants; we have not done that which it was our duty to do. We shall return later to this contradiction, which is inherent in moral experience and can be overcome, if it all, only in religion.23
Fourthly, the “ought” is unconditional. If I ought to do X, I ought to do it without qualification or reserve.24 Any qualification falls on the side of the content of the duty, not on the side of the obligation. The imperative is, in Kant's phrase, categorical, not hypothetical. There are no degrees of obligation. The moral law as specified in the homeliest obligation—e.g., of courtesy or fidelity to an engagement—is the same moral law that is, on another occasion, specified as the duty to sacrifice my life in the service of my country or of truth. There is here no last or first:
“Who sweeps a room, as to God's law,
Makes that, and the action, fine.”
But surely, it will be said, there is sense in the familiar distinction of higher and lower, or of more and less urgent, obligations when duties conflict, as they often do, is not the greater to be chosen rather than the less? We must beware, however, of vicious abstraction. It is perfectly legitimate to classify as duties acts which have habitually been judged obligatory, and to distinguish among them those which have been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Thus to serve your country in a crisis is properly held to be a more urgent duty than to pursue your professional or domestic avocations. But such prima facie duties are abstract and general, inductions from concrete moral experience; being relatively indeterminate, they may well be the occasion for conflict and admit of grading in a hierarchical series. A fully determinate obligation, my duty here and now, allows of no alternative; however difficult the task of determining it, when once determined, it, and it alone, is what I ought to do. If I ought now to subscribe to a charity and an hour later to risk my life in battle, the “ought” is in each case absolute, and admits of no scale or gradation as more or less urgent, greater or less. Similarly there can be no such thing as a conflict of duties, in the sense that two different and incompatible actions may each be what I ought to do here and now. The conflict of which we speak is always of prima facie, never of actual, obligations.
We are thus led to affirm two conclusions, which will be familiar to all students of Kant. They are regarded by many as among the chief stumbling blocks in his ethical doctrine. We have seen that if I act as duty would prescribe from any other motive, such as love or gratitude, my action is not wrong—far from it—, but it has no moral worth. But—and here we depart from the letter of Kant's teaching—this does not mean that such acts are destitute of value. Indeed, their intrinsic goodness may well be on a higher plane than the moral goodness of an act done from duty. Let me take an illustration. A man strongly disposed by nature to violence of temper or excess in drink has succeeded by prolonged moral effort in so mastering his inclination that he is able to face what once would have been a dangerous temptation without any consciousness of obligation or constraint. Practice made perfect has issued in spontaneity; he can act as duty enjoins with unalloyed pleasure, gratifying a rationally ordered desire. Such achieved spontaneity of action unquestionably represents in the agent a higher level of goodness than was displayed in the antecedent process of struggle against temptation. I refer to successive phases in the moral life of a single agent; for it is manifestly impossible to lay down a rule applicable to different agents with different natures, and placed in different situations. “We know not what's resisted”; X's triumph in achieved self-mastery may be less praiseworthy than Y's painful effort in face of graver obstacles. But X's case when the battle has been won is better than was his own case while the issue was still doubtful. The goodness thus achieved, however, is no longer moral goodness; it is goodness of another order. Thus a great deal of human conduct that is valuable does in fact fall outside the moral field. Kant was in error in refusing to recognize the worth of acts done sub ratione boni. But he was wholly right in interpreting, morality with strict rigour as the doing of duty for duty's sake. Secondly, the moral law is formal. Since our particular moral judgements, and the general rules of conduct that we derive from them, are fallible and variable, we seek an infallible criterion to assure us of what it is really right to do. Failing to find one, we question the possibility of moral knowledge. The principle that we ought always to do what we judge to be our duty, is true; provided that, in forming our judgement, we have neglected no possible means of enlightenment. An unenlightened conscience, as often as not, points the road to ruin, But this principle throws no light whatever upon what is materially right, upon what it is that we ought to do, Indeed, we know that any empirical content we may give to the moral command must fail to satisfy the ideal of duty. Such imperfection is intrinsic alike to the agent's moral capacity and to the situation that determines the specific nature of his obligations. No rule that prescribes particular duties can be unconditional or without exception.25 The moral law is formal, because its fulfilment requires a content transcending all that can be given within the bounds of the spatio-temporal process. It points to a supersensible order of which that process is the appearance. This is the reason why Kant's formalism, so far from proving a stone of stumbling in his ethical theory, is rather its crowning glory.
Of the contradictions in moral experience I shall speak in a later chapter. But I must take notice here of a further corollary that follows from the view we have been maintaining; all the more, because it concerns a problem that is apt to trouble the minds of ordinary men.
There is a constant demand upon ethics, that it shall justify morality in terms of something other than morality itself. Men naturally seek reasons why they should do what they know they ought to do, especially when, as frequently happens, they do not want to do it. The demand is, however, illegitimate; morality either is its own justification or cannot be justified at all. To the question “Why ought I to do my duty?” the only answer is “Because it is your duty, because you ought”.26 It is with morality as with truth: veritas norma est et sui et falsi.27 Here lies the error of Naturalist theories of morals, which are apt to attract adherents, just because they profess to account for morality by stating its pre-moral antecedents; whereas in attempting thus to explain morality they are really explaining it away. It is the error also, as we shall see later, of those who define right and duty in terms of conduciveness to good.28 In any moral situation, we intuitively judge what it is right for us to do, and in judging recognize the unconditional authority of the obligation. That we possess this power of judgement is what is meant by saying that we are moral beings.
Now, this implies that the consciousness of moral obligation is no cold intellectual perception, like that of the truth of a mathematical inference, but one that of itself stirs to action. It arouses a specific desire to do what we ought to do, because it is our duty. The presence of this “moral desire” has been affirmed in the eighteenth century by Richard Price, and more recently by Henry Sidgwick and Professor Prichard.29 Reason is practical, in that it not merely gives a law to the will, but itself moves the will to action.30 The desire to do our duty needs no explanation in terms of anything more than the apprehension that arouses it. Thus, as against Hume's assertion that “no action can be virtuous, or morally good, unless there be in human nature some motive to produce it, distinct from the sense of its morality”, we hold with Sidgwick, that “the perception or judgement that an act is per se the right and reasonable act to be done is an adequate motive to perform it”.31 The desire to do our duty is, of course, first aroused in a particular case, but its universality is implicit, and develops into the desire to do our duty in any and every moral situation. The general desire thus called forth serves henceforward as the source of determinate desires to discharge particular obligations. The universal principle is apprehended intuitively in the particular instance and the desire is universalized accordingly. Kant came very near to recognizing this desire in his doctrine of the moral motive. But, in his zeal to emphasize its difference from all natural inclinations, and especially in view of the fact that it was the effect and not the determinism, ground of the consciousness of moral obligation, he refused to allow to it the name of “feeling” or “desire”. As Professor Prichard has pointed out, he was only prevented from acknowledging its presence by his uncritical belief that all desires were for pleasure.32 This is one of the many occasions in Kant's ethics that provoke us to exclaim: “If only he had read Butler!”
We have said that explicit recognition of the universality of the moral law came late in the day; and that the world had to wait for Kant to bring it fully into evidence. But what Kant stated explicitly was implicit in moral experience from the first. A brief glance at the chief phases in the development of practical experience will make this clear. The distinctions to be noted do not present a strict order of temporal succession, for in morals “earlier” and “later” are not identical with “lower” and “higher”, and the lower forms of moral apprehension are foundto persist after the higher levels have been attained.
1. We distinguish, first, a pre-moral or non-moral plane of conduct, when action is directed merely to practical needs of life, without consciousness of obligation. Whether there ever was a time when all human conduct was of this order is a question that need not trouble us; it is certainly more prevalent among primitive than among civilized mankind. It is exemplified in every age in men's instantaneous responses to their environment, when these are neither mere reflexes on the one hand, nor exhibitions of moral habits on the other. I wake suddenly to find that my bedroom curtain is on fire; I leap out of bed, tear down the curtain, and stamp out the flames. Of course, moral character may function here, and the thought of duty, flashing into no mind, may operate as a motive; but this is not necessarily the case. Nor need the act be prompted by prudence and the desire of self-preservation; in all likelihood there is no end before my mind at all. The action is non-moral; to use Croce's term, it is purely “economic”, its standard is not duty, but practical efficiency.33 Similar actions, of a less dramatic nature, recur constantly in the ordinary course of life. There is a job to be done, a bit of business to be got through, and we tackle it, not as a matter of obligation, but of practical exigency; not because we “ought” to do it, but because we “must”. We may compare the double meaning of the Latin gerundive; faciendum means both “what ought to be done,” (moral) and “what has got to be done” (non-moral). We have noted how the term “right” has a wider and non-moral usage, to signify mere efficient adjustment to the situation of fact. What is important here is the implication of objectivity and law; the act admits of valuation as right or wrong, though not as morally right or wrong. The late Poet Laureate has illustrated this in the fourth book of his Testament of Beauty, where he shows how duty and “ethic” can arise out of the pre-moral type of action.
“Ther is a young black ouzel, now building her nest
under the Rosemary an the wall, suspiciously
shunning my observation as I sit in the porch,
intentiv with my pencil as she with her beak:
Coud we discourse together, and wer I to ask for-why
she is making such pother with thatt rubbishy straw,
her answer would be surely: ‘I know not, but I MUST.’
Then coud she take possession of Reason to desist
from a purposeless action, in but a few days hence
when he, eggs were to hatch, she would look for her nest;
and if another springtide found us here again,
with memory of her fault, she would know a new word,
having made conscient passage from the MUST to the OUGHT”34
2. Secondly, autonomy, inner control, as contrasted with external necessitation, is the hall-mark of morality. The stage of transition, when conduct assumes what we may call a quasi-moral character, is strikingly exemplified in the early history of Rome.35 The Romans were gifted with a singular capacity for “doing the right thing,”—i.e., for efficient adjustment to situations of fact—without reflection on ideal aims or moral principles. They cared not to “lift up their eyes unto the hills” to catch the vision of the new Jerusalem. Their sense of moral obligation, like their religious worship, had not freed itself from association with external compulsion and external sanctions. Like our own countrymen to-day, the Romans rarely acted on deliberate policy, even of self-preservation or self-aggrandizement; they were born opportunists, and their empire fell to them, like ripe fruit from the tree, while their minds were absorbed in the problems of the immediate present. So was it also with their most enduring creation, their law, which was built up, stone by stone, with an unconscious logic, in response to particular practical contingencies. Only late in the day, by aid of the Greek mind, and especially of Stoicism, and the Roman jurists set themselves to elicit principles from the mass of legal tradition and so to fashion a reasoned system of jurisprudence. For the Roman, morality was enmeshed in legalism. Obligation is a Latin word, and its significance was juristic rather than ethical. The Stoic term for duties, τα προσηκοντα, was rendered in Latin by officia; but officia meant rather the tasks incidental to a man's status in the community than duties in the full moral sense. The “must”, in short, still dominated the “ought”. The directive principle of Roman conduct was that of law and order. Their officium, as a race, was to police the Mediterranean world. On this level of conduct, the moral consciousness is half-awake, in that the claims of law, its generality, and the obligation to obedience are clearly recognized. The “ought” is there as well as the “must”; but, being entangled in externality, it is impure, and its full moral significance remains unrealized. The advance to the moral plane was not achieved till the adoption into Roman ethics of the Stoic doctrine of the law of nature—i.e., of a law that is truly moral, because truly inward, having its source in the rational nature common to mankind.
3. Thirdly, for the moral consciousness, law is defective, not only because its commands are issued by a relatively external authority, but because they fall short of universality. They are relative to a particular society at a particular period of its history, and are restricted to specific classes of actions. These limitations persist, after the distinction between moral and legal obligation has been clearly drawn. Man is slow to realize that he has moral duties, not only to his fellow-citizens or those sharing the same culture, but to the lunatic, the criminal and the savage, to enemies as well as friends,—at long last, to all mankind.36 There are those again who believe that their whole duty consists in conforming to the standards and behaviour approved by the circle in which they move. So there arise quasi-ethical codes of honour and etiquette, the soldier's or the merchant's, breach of which is censured as a grave Moral delinquency; while the man who obeys them is field to have done all that morality requires of him. The ethic of the Totalitarian States to-day exemplifies this level of morality. Even in our own land there are those who regard the nation as possessing a supreme claim on their allegiance, taking “my country, right or wrong” as a counsel of moral perfection, oblivious of the explicit contradiction. The advocates of a nationalist ethic, if challenged, might answer with plausibility that humanity is an empty abstraction, and that men will only answer the call for sacrifice when appealed to in the name of an actual community. But they would be wrong. No principle that falls short of universality can satisfy the requirements of the moral consciousness. The answer to the question, Who is my neighbour? cannot be couched in terms of any historical society, however wide; my neighbour is anyone towards whom I may find myself in a moral relationship. Kant recognized this in his second formula for the moral imperative: “Treat humanity” (i.e., any possible man or group of men) “whether in thine own person or in that of any other, always as an end withal, never merely as a means.”
I shall return to this formula later.37 I close to-day by showing how the principle of duty universal brings us up to, if not beyond, the bounds of ethics. The same is true with the principle of ideal good. Neither finite goods nor finite duties exhaust the content of the ιδεα του αγαθου or of the moral law. But the life of devotion to duty does not, as such, find its culmination in love of good. The two motives, and the types of conduct inspired by them, are not opposed to one another, but they are different. I cannot agree with Professor Taylor's suggestion that Kant's reverence for moral personality is indistinguishable from a love for all mankind.38 Love precludes all thought of obligation, and it is only the consciousness of obligation that arouses the moral motive of reverence. Nor does the saintly character represent the consummation of dutiful or of conscientious action. Gladstone once spoke of J. S. Mill as the “saint of rationalism”, on the ground of “his singular moral elevation”. Mill was not a saint, but rather, despite his theoretical professions, a typical Stoic. There was just this grain of truth it Disraeli's contemptuous comment that he was “a political finishing governess”.39 The life of the saint, informed by the love of God, is not ethical, but religious. It is true that the dutiful effort to overcome a strong temptation may prove so successful that the contrary inclination is entirely annulled and the right acts are done henceforward without the sense of obligation. The pleasure that then attends the doing of them is noted by Aristotle as a Sign that a virtuous character has been effectively achieved.40 But there has come about a μεταβασις εις αλλο γενος. A new motive, the desire of good, is now in operation. Moreover, the good in question, in the cases contemplated by Aristotle, is a finite good, different in kind from the infinite good the desire of which is the inspiring motive of the saintly life. We shall see in a later chapter how the virtus infusa that springs from the love of God can immediately effect a transformation of moral character, independently on the success or failure of previous effort in the discharge of moral duty. Duty universal is a moral, not a religious concept. It is an abstract principle, and, as such, cannot be worshipped. Moreover, for morality, the ideal and the actual are parted by a gulf that ethics cannot bridge. “You cannot, by any jugglery of dialectic,” writes Professor Taylor, “transmute an ought into an is.”41 Doubtless, for moral faith, the moral law is a reality, but, so long as we stand on ethical grounds, the dualism of teals, ideal and actual, remains unsolved. Here, too, the transcendence of the principle of duty, gives rise to an antimony which moral philosophy is powerless to overcome. Morality commands perfect conformity to the law, and neither human nature nor its physical and social environment allow of such perfection. “Ought implies can”, and we cannot; for all our striving, we remain to the end unprofitable servants, we have not done that which it was our duty to do. The complacency which all along the ages has provoked the anger of the moral man against the religious, of the Pharisee against both the publican and his Redeemer, has its source in the vain belief that duty can be fulfilled; nor can it be remedied save by the recognition that the transcendence of the moral law precludes its accomplishment in any empirical act of human will.42
I am not questioning the practical value of the effort to state the content of morality in concreto, the effort which led Bradley, under the influence of Hegel, to advocate so forcibly the claims of “my station and its duties”. But Bradley himself was the first to recognize that his formula fell short of universality, and that there are many obligations, even in the common life of men, which cannot be brought within its scope. He instances the life of religion; but this carries us beyond morality to a higher form of praxis.43 The vocation of the scholar is a fairer instance. Can any man who has consecrated his life to research—I am not thinking of the applied sciences, but of philosophy say or ancient history—feel entirely tranquil, in view of the hardships and disabilities suffered by the millions of his fellow-beings who indirectly minister to the leisure that is requisite for his vocation? Yet he knows that to devote his life to his enquiries is a moral duty. A survey of the efforts men have made to find a concrete formula furnishes abundant evidence of failure. The passage from the “must” to the “ought”, from legal to ethical obligation, and, within morality, from the narrower interpretations of duty to the wider, reveals an inner contradiction which it is the task of a theory of morals to make explicit. If the contradiction were overcome, and the ideal realized, morality would no longer exist as morality. It would be aufgehoben in another and a richer mode of experience. Thus, in proclaiming the universality and transcendence of the moral principle, Kant was virtually heralding the euthanasia of the moral life.
ADDITIONAL NOTE TO CHAPTER II
The distinction of types of conduct that forms the theme of this and the two following chapters was first brought home to me by my personal experience. “Le moi est haïssable”, in philosophical and religious discussions, as in life. Yet what would become of moral philosophy if the thinker refrained from correlating his theory with what he finds in his own character? Provided always that he views such data disinterestedly, in a temper free from egotism. “One to count as one, and one only.” Yet it seems fitting to relegate this personal reference to a note, which the reader may omit, if he so desires, without detriment to the main argument.
I open with a brief record of the stages by which I have been led, in my thinking on morals, to the position adopted in this book. (1) It is many years since, on reading Croce's Filosofia della Pratica, I was impressed by his vindication of the autonomy of what he terms “economic action” and his protest against the stepmotherly treatment meted out to it by moralists. But I found myself unable to follow him either (a) in his identification of volition of duty with volition of universal good, or (b) in his restriction of economic action to pre-moral and non-ethical action (even here, the pre-moral “must” is not distinguished from the motive of pleasure). This appeared to involve a subordination of economic to ethical action that was inconsistent with its full autonomy (see Appendix I).
(2) In the effort to do justice to a form of experience other than my own, I examined carefully the arguments of those—the majority of ethical writers—who subordinate duty to good, and especially Mr. Joseph's views as expounded in Some Problems of Ethics. It seemed clear that he had re-stated the Platonic position more adequately than any other modern thinker, with due regard to the Kantian insistence upon duty. But I remained unconvinced. And I was fortified in my objections by John Grote's distinction, in his treatise on The Moral Ideal, between cleontics, arctaics, and eudxmonics (though Grote's lines of differentiation are not identical with mine).
(3) I was thus driven to the conclusion that the difference of ideals and types of life was ultimate for ethics, and to seek a solution of the dualism in religion. My earlier and very imperfect statement of the problem in articles on “Right and Good,” published in the Journal of Philosophical Studies (now Philosophy), called for amplification, especially in this latter respect. I have endeavoured to meet the deficiency in the present volume.
I come now to my experience. A life worth living has always presented itself to me as a task to be faced rather than as an ideal end to be desired and enjoyed. The thought of good has not, of course, been wholly absent, especially in later years; but the dominant principle before my mind has been, and still is, that of duty. Even in religion, a sense of duty towards God is always in evidence. This, of course, is not to claim that I have habitually followed duty rather than inclination; the reverse would be far nearer the truth. But, even when inclination has been on the side of duty, the distinction has always been present to consciousness. When I have acted from inclination against duty, it his not been in ignorance, but with clear knowledge that I am doing what is wrong. When I have set myself to obey the command of duty against inclination, I have realized that duty has always been imperfectly fulfilled; in other words, that I have failed to do it. I decline to be fobbed off with the kindly but insidious consolation that in these cases I did “the best I could”, and therefore discharged the obligation. Even on the supposition that I could not have done better, what I did fell far short of the requirement. Morality, like religion, commands perfection; though, unlike religion, it offers no promise of its achievement.
Thus far my experience bears out the conception of the life of duty put forward in the text. It explains also why I have always felt a strong leaning towards the moral doctrines of Kant and Butler, rather than towards those of, say, Aristotle and Spinoza. What is more important is that others have had a similar experience; had this not been so, I should not have regarded my own as worthy of serious attention. I remember, for instance, being told by Dr. Stanton Coit, at the close of a philosophical discussion on the subject, that, in his experience of handling moral difficulties at the Ethical Church, he found his patients more ready to respond to the appeal to duty than to considerations of the general good. “You know, you ought to do this, not that” often brings immediate enlightenment, even I though it may not avail to determine conduct. But it is not always so. There are many—perhaps the greater number—who, as I have found in personal intercourse, are chiefly moved to act by a vivid and growing consciousness of ideal good, akin to something in their own nature, which compels them to seek the good spontaneously, without thought (save in the secondary way explained in the following chapter) of moral obligation. I too have experienced this attraction. I suppose there is no one who has not. But it involves—of this I am sure—a μεταβασις εις αλλο γενος. I quote in illustration a passage from a letter from a former pupil, who criticized my position in the light of his own very different experience. “Certainly,” he writes, “I am ‘chiefly moved by aspiration after an ideally conceived good’, as you supposed. And to tell the truth, I don't think it had occurred to me that the other type existed; and so, while at Oxford, moral philosophy always seemed to me rather a vain struggle between two sides in neither of which I had any practical interest. And it still seems incredible that anyone should know something is wrong and yet do it. My inclination and my sense of duty I don't remember ever to have conflicted: my inclination and others’ view of my duty certainly have. But if something appeared to me as my duty, I never yet felt any inclination against doing it. At least, after a week's pondering on it, I remember none! This seems consequent enough if one is moved by aspiration after an ideally conceived good. I find it very difficult to understand by what else one can be moved: for to me a duty seems to be but an opportunity of satisfying that aspiration: hence, I cannot but be inclined to it. And, if I were for a time in doubt, I should follow my inclination, believing it to be loyal to the good. As, had I been one of those at Virgil's deathbed, I might out of loyalty to Virgil have been tempted to agree to destroy the Æneid, but I am fairly sure I should not have done so, and that in not doing so I should have acted rightly. I agree that the individual must be responsible for evil as well as for good. But if evil is as deliberate as good, I think forgiveness absurd; but in fact I think the evil men do they do by mistake, and the good only they do deliberately. To determine how far an individual is responsible is quite beyond me; but, in so far as he is responsible, I believe that he sins by mistake, but is virtuous by intent.”
Have we not here a radical difference of outlook? And have not both positions a rightful title to acknowledgement in ethical theory? I have quoted my young friend's letter at length, because the views there stated are held, with great sincerity and strong conviction, by many, especially among the post-war generation. To relegate them, with Kant (and, I fear, Professor Prichard), to the limbo of Hedonism, is as grave an error as to ignore in their interest the claims of action for duty's sake. Even philosophers are prone, through lack of imagination, not to make due allowance for views alien to their own experience. So in ancient times the Cynics ignored the truth in Cyrenaicism, the Stoics that of the followers of Epicurus The same is true to-day. Each of the two types is exposed to its peculiar perils. The lover of good, be it ethical or religious, is prone to fall a prey to illusion and self-deception, through lack of training in the discrimination which the necessity of choosing between duty and inclination provides for those whose lives are directed by the consciousness of moral obligation. Like Plato's philosopher, on his first return to the cave, he is apt to be bamboozled by shadow images, mistaking spurious goods for the true. So in the ordinary concerns of practical life, religious people often fall easy victims to the lure of fraudulent prospectuses and quack nostrums. Their very love of good blinds them to the shortcomings of their fellows; they hide what Henry James has called “les situations nettes” in a roseate hue of optimism; or, worse still, deceiving their own hearts, like Lord Jim, by “good intentions”, they may lose their own souls in so doing. We recall Christ's pregnant words, “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light”. It is easy to understand why a mystic like St. Theresa chose to be directed by a “learned” confessor who was “not so holy” rather than by one holier but not so learned. On the other hand, the heart of the lover of good is set towards the true good. His ambition in the pursuit of finite goods is already an anticipation of the desire for a res infinita et aeterna. His heart is restless, until it finds rest in God. Whereas the devotee of duty, for all his endeavour, needs a new birth, if he is to enter into the kingdom. The μεταβασις εις αλλο γενος can only be consummated in the life of religion.
I close, as I began, on the personal note; and this time with a religious reference. The allusion is to an idiosyncrasy rather than to a rational experience. Everyone, I suppose, is haunted on occasion in his religious thinking by suspicions which are as irrational as they are unorthodox. The saint, for instance, is tempted, in the ardour of his love for God and his assurance of redemption, to fancy himself already one of the elect, secure henceforth in this sanctification from any possibility of lapsing into sin. Mine is the contrary temptation, to fall into the extreme of Calvinistic heresy and imagine that I have been predestined to eternal damnation. Of course, I know that the fear is irrational. God is not like that. But I can never quite rid myself of the suspicion. For, like all perversions, it is the perversion of a truth. If the moral law is the final tribunal, we all stand—of this I am sure—justly condemned. Religion, indeed, gives hope of forgiveness; on the one condition of the integrity of our repentance. But who can be perfectly assured of his integrity? Hence of the peace and joy, of religion, I know but little. I like religious services, especially sermons; but that is quite another story. I suppose that it is because of this deficiency that the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory has always strongly, appealed to me. I take some comfort from the like case of Dr. Johnson, whose utterances on questions of morals and religion were as profound as his views on metaphysics were superficial. In a conversation at Oxford with the genial Dr. Adams, Johnson acknowledged “with a look of horrour”, that he was much oppressed by the fear of death. Dr. Adams spoke of God's infinite goodness.
JOHNSON. “That he is infinitely good, as far as the perfection of his nature will allow, I certainly-believe; but it is necessary for good upon the whole that individuals should be punished. As to an individual, therefore, he is not infinitely good; and as I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall be damned“ (looking dismally).
DR. ADAMS. “What do you mean by damned?”
JOHNSON (passionately and loudly). “Sent to hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly.”44
The object desired as good may be the act itself, desired for its intrinsic goodness. The good desired is normally both immanent in, and transcendent of, the course of action prompted by the desire to realize it. See below, pp. 97 ff., On the important distinction between acts done from natural impulse and am done from deliberate desire of a rational good
Wordsworth, Ode to Duty..
Gorg., 466 ff., on the distinction between α δοχει αυτοις and α βουλονται
Paradise Lost, Book 1.
Conf., II, 4 ff.
Rom. vii. 19. The “good” here is the law of righteousness, rebellion against which is provoked by the opposing (positive) “law of sin”. The context shows that St. Paul is thinking of something very different from action sub ratione boni or from evil as defect of good. On the religious, as distinct from the moral, plane, the conflict is overcome and evil loses its positive reality; see Rom. viii., esp. 31 ff. But such a solution ties outside the scope of ethics.
Among philosophers of the seventeenth century, Hobbes stands for the principle of duty (as has been recently made clear by Prof. Laird), Spinoza for the principle of good.
See Prichard, Duty and Interest, p. 28.
There is no suitable word to designate the other specific type, action sub ratione boni. “Optimific”, as used by the Provost of Oriel in his The Right and the Good, would express, in contrast with “deontic”, the distinction I wish to draw; but both words are remote from common speech. John Grote's distinction, referred to by Laird, A study in Moral Theory, Pref., pp. ix, x, between “what may be won” (bonum) and “what should be done” (faciendum), and again between “aretaics” and “deontics” might be adjusted to the purpose, were it not for his inclusion of both alike within “moral” philosophy. I should be content with the terms “deontics” and “endaemonics”, provided the latter were understood in the light of the Aristotelian conception of ευδαιμονια. “Virtuous” and “moral” action would perhaps express the difference of types more simply.
Of course, there is a non-ethical use of the term “obligation” as when Dr. Whitehead in Process and Reality enumerates certain “categorial obligations”; but here there is little danger of confusion. On the phrase “ought to be” (the seinsollen) see chapter IV. Professor Moore has pointed out that if we were in a position to choose between two equally right acts, it would be erroneous to say that one of them “ought” to be done rather than the other. Of course, a wrong act would always be one that ought not to be done. See Moore, Ethics, p. 148. The possibility of two equally right acts is bound up with the view that a right act is one that realizes or conduces to good.
There is an important distinction between “right” = what is to be done, i.e., what is required for efficient handling of the situation, and “right” = what ought to be clone, i.e., what the moral law demands in the situation. This distinction between the standards of efficiency and of morality is admirably expounded by Croce in his Philosophy of Practice (see Appendix I). It is, I think, slurred by John Grote in his analysis of the faciendum, in ch. II of his Treatise on the Moral Ideals. The term “right” is also used in æsthetic judgements (“that is just the right line ”, “that is wrongly drawn”), in an entirely non-moral sense. The sense of what is right æsthetically may be present in high measure in a man who is almost morally blind, e.g., Louis Dubedat in Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma.
When, however, Dr. Moore says in regard to the Christian precept “love your enemies ”, that “to love certain people, or to feel no anger against them, is a thing which it is quite impossible to attain directly by will, or perhaps ever to attain directly at all ”, while “your behaviour towards them is a matter within your own control”, he seems to me to be seriously underrating the extent to which feelings are controllable by will. Control of thoughts and emotions constitutes four-fifths of the moral life. Such control is, of course, a voluntary action. I cannot accept his distinction between ideal rules, which it would be my duty to fulfil, if I were able, and rules of duty which I am actually able to fulfil. There is a sense in which no duty can be perfectly fulfilled, and there is a sense in which all duties lie within our power. Otherwise, the term “duty” loses its meaning. Further, I hold that acts cannot be judged morally apart from the temper of mind in which they are done (i.e., apart from the motive, in one sense of that ambiguous term). If this be so, the act judged includes the feeling, and judgements on acts alone or on feelings alone are abstract and, as such, defective moral judgements.
Mr. Joseph (Some Problems, p. 59) distinguishes, I think, correctly between two senses of rightness—“a right act may mean either an act which I ought to do, or an act having a rightness (a sort of goodness) in virtue of which I ought to do it”. The latter sense (apart from the identification with “a sort of goodness”, which I am unable to accept) appears to me to be nonmoral. The moral judgement is that, in virtue of this factual character, I ought to do the act (i.e., it is morally the right act for me to do).
See Joseph, op. cit., p. 61; Prichard, Duty and Ignorance of Fact (Hertz Lecture, 1932), pp. 26–27.
See ch. IV, pp. 135, 136.
Treatise on the Moral Ideals, p. 147.
As Prof. Laird has pointed out (A Study in Moral Theory, pp. 88 ff.) moral approval and disapproval differ from feelings of liking and disliking, in that they imply judgement on the practical situation. It is possible to approve what we don't like and to disapprove what we like (and may even do). “Much that we approve is approved sorrowfully.” He remarks that the doctrine of mere attractiveness is a doctrine of play, not of serious life (cf. P. 197).
See below, Appendix II.
Thus duty is always social in reference, though the implication cannot be limited to obligations within the scope of any actual or possible human society. This is where “my station and its duties” falls short, as Bradley pointed out (Eth. Stud., Essay V ad fin, pp. 203 ff.), as an adequate formula for the moral life.
Rep. 430E–431B, cf. 475B, 490AB, 581B.
I am happy to find Prof. Taylor endorsing this view of duty universal as an ideal “embodied in all” particular duties, “and yet identical with none of them” (Mind, No. 185, Jan. 1938, pp. 62, 64). He instances Prof. Guzzo's distinction between i doveri and il dovere. But I cannot accept Prof. Taylor's doctrine that the ideal of duty “draws its hold upon us simply from its absolute goodness”. See below, ch. IV. The reconciliation must come from religion; the absolute goodness on which the ideal of duty is grounded is that, not of a moral ideal merely, but of God.
Mr. Carritt (Morals and Politics, pp. 142–143) holds that, while no man would claim that he had fulfilled all his duties, “a man may sometimes be satisfied that he has fulfilled an obligation, and even that he did so because it was an obligation”. But this is to ignore the factor of universality in all duties. Else we might say: a particular duty is none the less completely fulfilled as a duty than a dog is completely a dog, though it does not exhaust all the possibilities of specification in the concept of caninity.
See below, Additional Note to ch. VI.
On the absoluteness of duty, see Laird, A Study in Moral Theory, pp. 302 ff. “If values are not absolute, they are nothing.” On any other theory, they are only “anthropomorphic tendencies and satisfactions”. Englishmen, he says don't talk much about duty, just because it is so final. Prof. Westermarck who derives moral imperatives from feeling does not show that they are justified; he “merely supplies them with a pedigree” (p. 199). We find Bowman (op. cit., Introduction, xxii) writing when on service during the war “without the idea of unconditional duty life would hardly be worth living these days”.
Kant certainly writes, especially in the Grundlegung (Section II), as though certain types of action, e.g., truth-telling and keeping of promises, were unconditionally obligatory. His language is not entirely justified by his anxiety, evident throughout this section of his treatise, to he of service to the plain man in the task of applying the categorical imperative in practice. The examples are prefaced by an alternative formulation of the imperative, the words “law of nature” pointing to what is expressed more clearly in the Critique of Practical Reason as the “Typic of Pure Practical Reason”. Only by an accommodation of this kind ran the imperative be applied to the maxims of human conduct. It would have been far better if Kant, in passing to the problem of applied morality, had made it clear that the unconditionality of the pure formal law necessarily suffered violence by the inclusion of empirical matter.
Cf. Price, Review of the Principal Questions in Morals, ch. VI (ed. 1758, p. 191): “To ask, why we are obliged to practise virtue, to abstain from what is wicked, or perform what is just, is the very same as to ask, why we are obliged to do what we are obliged to do”. Cf. p. 187: “It follows that rectitude is a law, as well as a rule to us; that it not only directs, but binds all, as far as it is perceived ”. P. 181: “Obligation to action, and rightness of action, are plainly coincident or identical; so far so, that we cannot form a notion of the one, without taking in the other”.
Spinoza: Eth., II, 43 Schol.
Nor, again, is it the business of ethics to answer the perfectly legitimate question what men in particular situations ought to do. That is what each individual, as a moral agent, must decide for himself. Were the burden shifted, as would logically follow on Utilitarian principles, upon the expert in ethics, it would be fatal to morality. A practical decision, to have moral worth, must be taken on the agent's own responsibility.
See Price, Review, ch. VI, pp. 197–198: “Wherever there is obligation, there is also a motive for action”; ch. VIII, P. 323: “The perception of right and wrong does excite to action, and is alone a sufficient principle of action”; P. 325: “An affection or inclination to rectitude cannot be separated from the view of it”.
This is entirely in accordance with the well-known statement of Aristotle, that “mere thinking originates no movement, save when it is thinking for the sake of an end, and practical thinking” (διανοια δαυτη ουθεν χινει αλλ η ενεχα του χαι πραχτιχη) Eth. Nic., 1139, a 35, i.e., Reason as purely speculative furnishes no motive; Reason as practical does; with the reservation that moral action is purposed for its own sake, and not, as Aristotle was at times too apt to suppose, for the sake of an end beyond the action.
Home, Treatise, (on Morals, Part II, Sect. I). Hume's statement is indeed open to two interpretations. If it is simply taken to mean that the principle of duty can only be operative as regulating inclinations, so that these furnish matter and content for the application of the formal law, no objection can be raised. But if it means—and this clearly was Hume's doctrine—that an act is only morally good when done front a motive other than duty, his position is directly opposed both to that of Kant and to the view taken in this book. Cf. the statement a little later on in the same section: “our sense of duty always follows the common and natural course of our passions”.
Dr. A. C. Ewing, in an admirable article on The Paradoxes of Kant's Ethics in Philosophy (vol. xiii, No. 49, Jan. 1938) points out (p. 41) that for Kant pleasure, while not unconditionally good, is good not merely as a means. The pleasure of a morally good man is good irrespective of consequences.
Croce includes under this head both the efficient response here discussed and prudential action or action for the sake of pleasure. My own view is that while both these are non-moral, action for pleasure is on the line of action sub ratione boni. See Appendix I on Croce's doctrine of economic action.
iv, 134–146; cf. Bergson, “Les Deux Sources”, p. 33, where he imagines an ant endowed with the power of reflection. See Appendix II. Of course, in human conduct the pressure of the “must” is only relatively external; it is mediated by the imminent sociality of man's nature. There is a measure of conscious approval in his uncritical response to the claims of social custom. He will respect himself as a good member of his tribe. So, too, on the developed moral plane the constraint is never that of a purely internal authority. Were it so, constraint would vanish; there would remain no consciousness of obligation, and the man would act with perfect spontaneity (see the following chapter).
See my Legacy of the Ancient World, PP. 4 f., 185 ff., 197 ff., 428 f.
We shall see later that this list step implies the mediation of religion.
In ch. VIII.
In Mind, No. 185 (Jan. 1938), pp. 65, 66. “I suggest … that Kant was right in principle about reverence for duty as the distinctive moral motive, and that this reverence genuinely felt is a specifically moral love.” Prof. Taylor also refers to the medieval concept of amor debitus (ibid., p. 62). This is just the confusion which Kant set himself to clarify. It persists in much of the thinking of our own time on the subject of morals and religion. Both the Bishop of Oxford (The Threshold of Ethics, ch. VI) and Mr. Carritt (Theory of Morals, p. 137), for instance, appear to be victims of it. The “saintly” type is not the natural outcome of the life of a conscientious discharge of duty; rather it is the consummation of a spontaneous desire of good. I do not think it is true to say that “in general, it is the man who has been conscientious about his moral duties who, for obvious reasons, is most accessible to the appeal of religion” (Threshold of Ethics, p. 169). But the Bishop of Oxford has some excellent remarks on the dangers of self-centeredness and excessive scrupulosity for those who lead the dutiful life; dangers from which the saint is singularly free. What he calls (p. 147) the “innate love of the right” in child-saints is surely “innate love of the good”.
Leslie Stephen, English Utilitarians, vol. III, p. 65 note.
E.N. II. iii. 1104b 3–8.
Faith of a Moralist, I, p. 28, with reference to von Hügel.
See the Additional Note to Chapter VI for further discussion of this antinomy. I am aware that many, probably most, philosophers wilt regard my position on this matter as paradoxical. Prof, Laird, for instance, in Mind (July, 1929), “Concerning Rights”, writes: “that a man's duty is always an unattainable ideal which nobody can achieve to perfection, cannot, I think, be seriously meant. For how can it be true that a man ought to do what he cannot conceivably do?” (p. 275). He maintains that “if a man pays his debts ‘on the nail’, I think he has done, quite perfectly, what he ought to have done” (p. 276). He regards the spirit in which the payment is made as irrelevant. But he also admits that in abstention from murder the spirit may be relevant. If relevant anywhere, it is surely relevant everywhere. That in certain cases it may be ignored in practice is immaterial to the speculative issue. What, I wonder, would St. Paul have slid to Prof. Laird's contention? He at any rate “meant seriously” when he wrote of man's impotence to fulfil the law.
Ethical Studies, ch. V.
Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Birkbeck Hill (1887), Vol. IV, pp. 299 f. This is not the place to discuss the validity of the belief in eternal punishment. The reader may be Profitably referred to the closing section (VIII, pp. 107 ff.) of Prof. Taylor's recent book on The Christian Hope of Immortality. I would merely add the remark that those who reject hell on moral grounds are in a singularly weak position. If all is to be well in the end for everybody, the moral significance of our present life is seriously lessened. It ceases to be really a state of probation. Such sentimental optimism, however, is of a piece with the prevalent laxity of thought in regard to the moral responsibility of the individual.