1. The main question of our time in ethics is whether moral judgment expresses knowledge or feeling. When we say that happiness or understanding is something worth pursuing for its own sake, are we expressing a belief that is, or may be, true, or are we giving voice to the satisfaction we take in these things? When we say that cruelty is wrong, are we making an assertion, or are we giving utterance to a dislike, an entreaty, or a command? Or are we, perhaps, doing both?
The issue bristles with difficulties, as we shall see. But it is of vast importance, theoretic and practical. It is important in theory because upon its outcome depends the place we assign to value both in knowledge and in the world. Traditionally, three kinds of knowledge have been recognized: knowledge of fact, as in ‘this rose is red’; knowledge of necessity, as in ‘2 + 3 = 5’; and knowledge of value, as in ‘Gandhi was a good man’. This last class of judgments is very wide, for it is not confined to moral matters; judgments of value may express our sense of what is beautiful or ugly, comic or tragic, appropriate or rude, indeed in any way desirable or undesirable. The question currently raised is whether any of these judgments expresses insight or apprehension at all. If they do, what sort of attributes are these of goodness or beauty or rudeness? They seem to be neither sensible qualities nor relations, and even those philosophers who believe there are such attributes are perplexed and divided about them. On the other hand, if value judgments do not express insights or truths, much that has passed as philosophy will have to be dismissed as meaningless. Ethics and aesthetics as traditionally pursued must be abandoned, since the attempt to find what sort of acts are right or what sort of things are beautiful will now be recognized as misguided. A kind of ethics may remain, but it will be either meta-ethics, that is, an inquiry into the use of ethical words, or else a branch of anthropology, a description of how people in fact do feel and behave in certain types of situation. And the notion that values exist in the world apart from such attitudes or responses will have no meaning.
2. The issue, we suggested, is of practical as well as theoretical importance. When the view that moral judgments were expressions of feeling was proposed by Westermarck in 1906 and in a more extreme form by Ayer in 1936, many moralists responded not only with dissent, but with outright moral condemnation. They urged that the acceptance of such a view would have disastrous moral consequences. I do not think that the behaviour of converts to it gives much occasion for alarm; and certainly the analysis of moral judgment in a way that the facts seem to require is no ground for condemning anyone, even if the consequences are unfortunate. It is the philosopher's business to follow the argument where it leads, not to trim or pad his conclusions to suit our desires, or even our moral needs.
On the other hand, to say that the issue is without practical importance seems to me untrue, if only because an emotivist ethic would, by its own avowal, cut the nerve of connection between rightness and reasonableness. Most moralists in the past, and probably most plain men, have conceived of the right as also the reasonable. They have felt that if it was their duty to refrain from pilfering their neighbour's purse, there was a rational ground for doing so. They have admired reasonableness in other people; they did not like to be called unreasonable themselves. Their pride in being reasonable was thus an ally, and sometimes a powerful one, of their sense of justice and decency. If moral judgments say nothing and are incapable of rational refutation or support, as many noncognitivists have held, this alliance rests upon an illusion, and is bound with increasing enlightenment to be broken. It is unlikely that this parting of company will be without psychological effect. For a man to realize that he can no longer say with truth that one action is better than another, or that there is any rational ground for avoiding the infliction of pain, does, I think, weaken the felt claim upon him of moral obligation, and not through some confusion on his part, but on the contrary through his coming to see that what he took to be an important ground of right conduct is in fact an illusory ground. I repeat that this gives no reason for dismissing a subjectivist analysis. Facts are facts, and morality may be less broadly based than we thought. But it does make clear that the great issue of our day in ethical theory is more than one of theory. For the issue inevitably leads to the further question, Why should I be moral? If there is no reason for being so, is there any obligation to be so? That is an intensely practical question.
In spite of the practical importance of the theoretical issue, the layman who turns to the specialists for light upon it is likely to come away puzzled. He finds much technical discussion of cognitive versus emotive meaning, of the possibility of a logic of imperatives, of the correct analysis of value sentences as opposed to empirical and logical sentences, and of the almost inexhaustible shades of meaning in the word ‘good’. To anyone ‘hot for certainties’ about what to do with a day or a life, or how to go about it to decide, such discussions are likely to seem trivial. Some of them certainly are. Some of them, on the contrary, conceal under the currently fashionable dress of linguistic analysis a genuinely penetrating insight, and if the layman could supply the context necessary for their understanding, he would no doubt concede their importance. What he needs to see is the bearing of these apparently verbal discussions on questions more obviously important. The question whether the meaning of the word ‘good’ should be described as emotive or cognitive does not strike him as world-shaking. What he needs to see is the bearing of these apparently verbal discussions on questions more obviously important. How is this to be shown? The most straightforward way would be to argue the matter out before him, developing each position into its logical ramifications. In the end nothing short of this will serve.
3. But there is another and perhaps easier way to begin, namely to see the steps by which the question reached its present form. The issue whether good is a predicate, discussed in the professional journals between cognitivist and non-cognitivist philosophers seems almost as remote and technical as a problem in nuclear physics. As a matter of fact, it has sprung up inevitably from the tension between the two main strands of western ethical thought. It is only the most recent form of an issue that has been brewing in the western mind for two thousand years, the issue of the relative places of reason and feeling in the good life. Not that this larger question is the same as the technical question now debated. The older and larger question is, What are the roles of intelligence and of the non-rational parts of our nature in achieving the good life? The newer and more technical question is, What are the roles of intelligence and of the non-rational parts of our nature in moral judgment itself? Though the questions are different, the first inevitably leads to the second. If reason is to guide conduct, it must be able to judge or appraise it. But centuries of debate and experiment passed before the issue reached its present sharp definition. And it has reached such definition nowhere but in the west. The present issue is far more than a wrangle between academic hair-splitters. It is the culmination of a tension, millenniums old, between major trends in western ethics.
Our ethics has two principal sources, Greece and Palestine. For the leading teachers of the Greeks, what was all-important to the good life was a certain kind of understanding, and if this was gained, practice in accordance with it followed automatically. For Christianity, what was essential was rather an attitude of the ‘heart’, a disposition of feeling and will, and if this were present, we could be sure that all other important things would be added to it. Thus the conflict of emphasis that was to trouble the intervening centuries was already implicitly present in the teaching of the two moral pioneers of the race, Socrates and Christ. Let us look at this conflict in its original form.
4. Greek thought about the good life was planted with remarkable firmness on the facts of human nature. Long before it had the evidence to prove the evolutionary speculations of Anaximander, it divined the affinity between human and animal life, and recognized that, in a sense not easy to define, yet plainly true, the kingdom of animate nature was a realm of purpose. Every organism grew; growth was everywhere under the constraint of a pattern which the organism to all appearances was striving to realize; indeed the very question ‘what is this?’, if asked of any growing thing, was naturally answered by reference to what it was becoming. What was an acorn, or the sapling that grew from it? It was that which, if allowed to take its natural course, would become an oak. What was the difference between a gosling and a cygnet? They looked very much alike, but there was a fundamental difference between them; one was an undeveloped goose, and the other an undeveloped swan. What was a baby, a child, or a stripling? There was only one natural answer: it was an undeveloped man. If you were to conceive what any animate thing was essentially (Plato extended this way of thinking even to the inanimate), you must conceive it in terms of the end which it was striving to embody. The Greek would have said, as William James said long afterwards, that ‘the meaning of essence is teleological’.
But what do we mean when we speak of a ‘striving’ on the part of the cygnet to become the swan or of the acorn to become an oak? We must admit that we know only dimly; we are interpreting other natures by analogy with our own; and while we do this confidently enough in dealing with other persons, our meaning and our confidence dwindle as the analogy becomes more remote. That seeking or striving is present in forms of life lower than our own seems unquestionable, but what really goes on in the bee that constructs a honeycomb or in a bird that builds its nest we do not know. The reason is that, with us, striving has become so much an affair of consciousness in which we are aware of our ends and choose our means to them deliberately that we can hardly conceive a process of striving that is not so directed. The bee and the bird cannot work from an ideal blueprint as an architect does; we can. Yet it is easy to overrate our advance. Even in ourselves the process of seeking has come only vaguely and brokenly to consciousness. Cunningly calculating as we are, compared to bird or bee or ape, we still hardly know where we are going, and life remains for the most part a stumbling along by trial and error. The young man who chooses a vocation, a political party, and a life-partner, is making momentous decisions, and knows it; yet in making them he is so much at the mercy of inclination that, as he looks back at them later, he often feels that they were made in a state of sleepwalking and that heaven must have been taking care of one so unable to take care of himself. Even with our lesser enterprises the story is the same. A man starts somewhat idly making a garden, gets engrossed in it, and finds his pride and his plans extending themselves till the back yard is transformed. A novelist sits down to tell his tale and presently finds it running away with him; the characters will not stay put; the design alters as it unfolds; and he is himself astonished at what comes out. Life for all of us, in short, is an adventure in self-discovery. We do not know at the beginning what we want, what would really satisfy us, and the sad fact is that many of us never learn.
5. Here was where Socrates started. His mission was to wake men up to this curious fact that they did not know what they wanted and to make clear to them that until they discovered it, their lives would be largely waste motion. He was a stone-cutter himself, and he liked to make his points from those who worked with their hands, because within their own limits, these people had an especially clear idea of what they wanted to achieve. If one asked a smith who was hammering away at his anvil what he was trying to do, his answer would be clear and definite; he was making a sword, and the best one he could. This definiteness of aim gave his work confidence, economy, and pleasure. But it was Socrates’ awkward business to show to the smith and to everyone else the shortness of their vision by repeating the question ‘Why?’ Why should the smith make swords at all? Answer: To equip the army. But why should the army want swords? Answer: To fight better. But why should we want a fighting army? To keep our state in being against those who would destroy it. But why keep the state in being? Because it guarantees our freedom. But why should we insist on freedom? Because then we can pursue unhampered the goods we want. But what precisely are these goods? Sooner or later, everyone wavered and broke under this insistent questioning, as no doubt most of us would to-day. We should have to admit that we are in a great hurry and bustle to go—well, where?
Now the secret of the good life for Socrates and his two successors, who were, fortunately, more given to the use of the stylus, lay in discovering by self-examination the implicit aim of our efforts, and from that time forth guiding them deliberately. The nature of this aim was more clearly seen by these successors than by Socrates himself. Plato and Aristotle were in remarkable agreement about it. They held, somewhat in the manner of the dynamic psychologists of our own day, that a man is a bundle of impulses and emotions—of hunger, thirst, and sex, for example, of combativeness and self-assertion—that each of these has its own special satisfaction, that in different men the ‘drives’ are differently combined, and that each of us should make it his business to find out what his own combination was and to live in such a way that their satisfactions could be united in the richest and most harmonious whole. All this is very modern and almost trite. But in one important respect, Plato and Aristotle were far behind, or far ahead, of current theories; they were both what present-day psychologists would call intellectualists. They not only distinguished among human impulses a separate impulse toward knowledge, as is done by many writers of our day; they argued that the realization of this impulse was the prime condition of realizing the others. Conceding that the several satisfactions of hunger, sex, and combat were matters of sense and feeling, they pointed out that the relations between these, which must be grasped and maintained if the good life were to be achieved, were not themselves apprehended by sense or feeling, but by intellect or reason. For Plato, as for Kant, sense without conception was blind. The architectural design of the good life could be drawn by intelligence only. To be conscientious was to be scrupulously reasonable.
How did reason work in conduct? In the ordinary case, very much as conscience is now supposed to work in ourselves. Conscience, said Leslie Stephen, is the concentrated experience of the race. It makes us wiser than we know, because it is the deposit of parental example, of the instruction of teachers, and of the pressure of society, themselves in turn the product of centuries of experimentation. Conscience is thus the voice of our own hitherto accepted ideal, recording its yes or no to a proposed line of conduct. It does not in general argue; it simply affixes its seal or enters its protest. Its vast authority Socrates recognized in the respect he gave to his ‘monitor’. Many, Quakers and others, have taken such ‘inward light’ as infallible. Here Socrates would have drawn back. Granting that it is the best guidance we have at the moment, we must admit that it is sometimes irrational guidance. It has been known to pass without demur a man's edging up in a queue, and also his indignant protest when this is done by someone else. Conscience, Socrates thought, must be educated by reflective criticism into clearness and coherence; otherwise the ideals in terms of which we must pass judgment on the actual will themselves be confused. Life is a series of crises in which we are daily and hourly prompted in different directions, and here reason must be arbiter. In Plato's image of the soul as charioteer, driving abreast the black horse of appetite and the white horse of passion, it is reason that gives us the intimation when either is beginning to run wild. In Aristotle's picture of the good life as one of judicial balance, without excess or defect, it is again reason, operating not by rule, but by that sense of the fitness of things which produces a work of art, that determines the pattern of conduct.
6. Once one has entered on this process of appraising particular satisfactions by their part in a larger whole, it is not easy to stop. How much time, for example, should one devote to physical exercise? That depends on how it fits in and contributes to the life that your particular powers appoint for you. But then that life is itself a fragment only; it is a life lived in a community, and it must be chosen and judged by the way it, in turn, fits into the communal life. And you cannot say what is the good life for this community without noting that it is, again, part of a nation whose welfare plainly depends on whether its component groups take an interest in it and play their part in it—economic, political, and military. But then the nation, as we now see more clearly than the Greeks did, is only a part of a world community, and above all nations is humanity. Mankind is a single whole, knit together with increasing closeness. A new policy adopted by Russia or the United States will affect the amount of rice that a South Indian has for his dinner; it will decide whether Giovanni in Genoa can marry Tina or must go off instead into the army. For the Greek the statesman was a higher authority on the end of life than the private moralist, for his view was more comprehensive.
Was the world statesman, then, to be the highest authority of all? Socrates would have been ready to stop there. Plato took a higher flight and carried Aristotle most of the way after him. Is even the whole of humanity a self-sufficing unit? Is it not itself a part of nature? And may we not suppose that there is a wider, though still purposive, order that embraces not only human experience but the whole of nature in one system, and that the end of our own life is to be truly seen only as a fragment of this over-all design? With whatever justification, this was what Plato thought. He thought that if we appealed from the statesman to the philosopher, we should learn that the world itself was an intelligible system, in which everything had its appointed part. Nothing short of this vast design, which he called ‘the form of the good’ would give us the ultimate measure of any community, any life, or any act. Practical wisdom was good enough for short-range decisions. The trouble was that few if any decisions proved in fact to be of the short-range kind. In every act we are, or may be, determining a vast future. And the final estimate of the act could only be made, Plato thought, by a sweep of vision so imperial as to embrace ‘all time and all existence’.
7. In the view of many, this conviction of the Greek thinkers, that speculative reason was the supreme court in the realm of values, has seemed to be intellectualism gone wild. Even if we grant them, these persons will object, that such comprehensive knowledge is the test of goodness, it can surely not be held that by itself it will make a man good. To see the good is not to do it. For that, something quite different is required, namely the will to do it. Our records are full of intelligent people who, for all their clear heads, have gone wrong; video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor; what I would I do not, and what I would not, that I do; is not this everyone's experience? Indeed a bad man is all the more formidably bad for his intelligence, as Iago notoriously was. Happily too, there are dull men in plenty who are the salt of the earth. If Kingsley was not inspired, he was at least not muddled in advising, ‘Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever’.
Socrates and Plato would have insisted that he was muddled. If cleverness meant intelligence, even a sweet maid could hardly afford to be without it. ‘By all means let her be virtuous’, Socrates would have said, and then he would have added his inevitable and confident comment, ‘but of course by virtue I mean knowledge’. By this he could not have meant anything so absurd as that unreflecting habits of respecting oneself and others are worthless; indeed Aristotle made such habits themselves the condition of the insight that disclosed their value; it is the man bred as a gentleman, he held, who had the most sensitive perception of what that particular ideal required. Nor was it meant that the mere abstract knowledge that temperance is better than indulgence would impose the needed restraint upon the toper with money in his pocket and his foot on the brass rail. But Socrates would have insisted, as James did later, that the control of the will is, far more than we commonly realize, a matter of the control of attention. Is it the case that the toper, in ordering the further bottle, chooses the worse in full view of the better? Or is it rather that he turns his back on the better because he has already allowed it to slip out of his mind?
If it is insisted that he knows perfectly well, and at the very moment of his indulgence, that he is making a beast of himself, the shade of the Greek questioner, if it were still about, would ask, ‘What do you mean by “perfectly well”?’ If you mean the sort of pale and general knowledge that would produce a verbal assent that he was acting grossly, you are no doubt right, but that is not the knowledge I am talking about. I am saying that if he held vividly in mind the particular consequences of this act—the hang-over of the morning after, the self-disgust of being beaten again, the step down into deeper hopelessness, perhaps the tongue-lashing from a Xanthippe at home, and all the rest of it—if he saw these consequences steadily for what they were, and likewise the alternative and decent course for what it was, the day of his toperdom would be ended. No one ever, while seeing with full clearness and vividness what is good, deliberately embraces evil. The secret of right doing, therefore, is knowledge, firmly held in mind. If we violate that knowledge, it is because, under the influence of desire, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived. Nothing, of course, is easier. Even the most vicious course of action has something to be said for it, and if one wants very much to do it, one can make it look excusable by confining oneself to its attractions. Thus wrongdoing everywhere is due either to ignorance or to self-delusion. That this doctrine, opposed as it is to our common way of thinking, is no mere foible of the schools is suggested by the fact that it has convinced such modern moralists as Bentham and T. H. Green. Probably Sidgwick's conclusion on the issue is the soundest one, namely, that though the deliberate doing of what we clearly see to be wrong does occur, it occurs surprisingly seldom, and that, when it does, it is usually by way of a sin of omission rather than of commission; i.e. we fail to do what we see we ought to do rather than do what we see we should not.1
8. To critics whose morals have a closer linkage with religion, the Greek conception of goodness may seem intolerably cold and calculating, as carefully wrought, but also as dead, as a Greek statue. In an ethics that makes so much of balance and sanity, there would seem to be no place for much that western minds have come to admire—for St Francis let us say, or for the unreckoning self-sacrifice of love; and it is sometimes said that when confronted by major ills like destitution, disease, or death, this morality is bankrupt, that to face these things more is necessary than an ethics of reasonableness, even when it is touched with the mystical exaltation into which the thought of Plato and the schools that followed him so often issued. Whether a rationalist morality will really serve our needs we must consider in due time, but let us note in passing that such criticisms as this last are less than just. So far was Greek rationalism from being merely a shower of dialectical fireworks that it was the practical code of some of the noblest characters on record. After all, it produced Socrates, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, who dealt with the ills of life and death as few men ever have.
That it did have signal defects is true. Neither the communal organization proposed in the Republic nor the ideal of personal character proposed in the completest of Greek handbooks, the Nicomachean Ethics, will stand a critical scrutiny. It must be admitted, again, that in the great mass of ethical discussion in these books there is curiously little in the way of definite and solid result regarding the proper method of ethics. Socrates’ struggle to define the virtues seldom achieved a result satisfactory even to himself; Plato never got clear about the ‘form of the good’ or showed how it could be usefully employed in practice; Aristotle's classification of virtues is illogical and incomplete; his analysis of ‘well-being’ is not carried through; his famous general rule of conduct, ‘nothing in excess’, is almost scandalously vague. Indeed Greek ethics generally, under close inspection, is inchoate and fragmentary. But it is fragmentary in the sense that the Parthenon is a fragment. There appears among its rough stones and its cracked and pitted columns an imposing design for the good life. And the great point about it is that reason is the architect of this design. We cannot use the term narrowly or precisely, because the Greek writers themselves did not use it so. But it is clear that, in their view, only that man could be really good who possessed a cultivated intelligence and directed his life to an end reflectively arrived at and firmly held before him, an end which was to be given complete ascendancy over his feelings, desires, and impulses.
9. When we turn to the other major source of western ethics, we are almost at the opposite pole. The emphasis of the Christian ethics is not on reason but on love; and love, if not merely a feeling, is at least an attitude in which feeling plays an essential part. Goodness for Jesus lay among the inner springs of conduct. It manifested itself, of course, in action, but what gave it its quality and value was the attitude of the ‘heart’. Wherever he started in his discussions, he seems always to have come back to this as the crucial point. In the people around him, the fountain of moral authority was the Mosaic law embodied in the Pentateuch, a law which, as interpreted by the Pharisees, prescribed the rules of good living in detail. Jesus knew these laws and respected them, but insisted that conformity to them was hollow unless it sprang from the right inward source, and that violation of them was innocent if it did. He said of the ceremonial alms-giving of the Pharisees what he would have said of the ostentatious largesse of Aristotle's ‘great-souled man’, that the widow's mite meant far more, because of the spirit in which it was given. If keeping the Sabbath meant inhumanity to an ox, it was better to break the rule than to be unkind even to an animal. This emphasis on the inner state, instead of relaxing the demands made of morality, intensified and extended them enormously. It was no longer enough that one should refrain from injuring one's brother, for one must now avoid the very anger that would make one want to injure him; one was to avoid not only adultery but lustful desire. Nor was the new disposition to be limited to those of one's own family, nation, or race. Plato had complimented the Athenians on having felt toward the Persians ‘a pure and heartfelt hatred of the foreign nature’ that went beyond that of any of the other Greeks. The love enjoined by Jesus was to be shown alike to Jew and Gentile, man and woman, bond and free; we were to love even our enemies and continue to be forgiving, no matter how long they went on provoking and persecuting. When asked for a summary of his teaching, Jesus offered it in two commandments, both of which were demands for love: love God and love man. Since he wrote nothing and his sayings were reported only in fragmentary fashion along with much that was plainly hearsay, there is a great deal in the existing record of him that is obscure and of doubtful genuineness, but ‘the most certain thing about the teaching of Jesus is that He did teach this doctrine of universal love.’2
10. What did he mean by love? There are those who would deny that in using the term he was referring to a feeling. Love, they say, is something that he enjoined or commanded, and he would have commanded only what is within the control of our wills. The feeling of love is not thus within the control of our wills, and he could not, therefore, have required it of us. To meet this difficulty, Dean Rashdall suggested that ‘the love towards all men which the Christian rule and rational morality demand is primarily a direction of the will’, and ‘will is a name for the dominant desire which has passed into action’. Further, ‘What I imagine the Christian and rational precept of love towards mankind as such to prescribe is that the ultimate laws of human conduct should be determined by the principle that every man should be treated as an end in himself according to his intrinsic value.’3 This seems to impart too much of both will and reason into the original Christian spirit. Certainly the good will of Jesus was not the good will of Kant, a settled respect for the rational rule of duty; that would have been far too cold. J. R. Seeley would seem to be more nearly right about it: what Christ held to be all in all was ‘spontaneous warmth, free and generous devotion’; ‘as we commonly behave rightly to anyone to whom we feel affection or sympathy, Christ considered that he who could feel sympathy for all would behave rightly to all’, indeed that ‘no heart is pure that is not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic’.4 He thought that men were naturally trustful and affectionate towards each other, and that the secret of human goodness and happiness lay in removing the shell of indifference, suspicion and fear which, in virtue of occasional rebuffs, each man had built around him, and in returning to that joyful, childlike, and trusting affection of which he was himself an example. So far as is known, there was nothing erotic about this affection. In the love of mankind and even in the love of God as described by some later Christian writers, particularly mystics, expressions do creep in which suggest that this love is a sublimation, or scarcely even that, of a feeling markedly romantic and sensuous. It is the more noteworthy in the light of this that the New Testament never uses the word ερως, and generally employs instead the word αγαπη which was relatively free from sensuous associations.5 The core of Christian love was an eager, joyful affection, kindliness, and trust, which was capable of being directed upon many different objects, and took a varying complexion as these objects changed—of pity when given to the sick or poor, of forgiveness when given to wrongdoers, of reverence and gratitude when given to God.
If anyone objects that the Christian stress was not merely on feeling and disposition, and that goodness involved also a consideration of others’ welfare—the healing of the sick, the feeding of the hungry, and the clothing of the destitute—we of course agree. Genuine love for another does not go with indifference to his misery. Nevertheless, there are two striking facts about Jesus’ treatment of what would be commonly called the good consequences of conduct. The first is the relatively small amount of attention he gave them. He insisted that if men sought first the inward kingdom and achieved it, the outward kingdom would take care of itself. Those who have attempted to make of Christianity a social gospel, while presumably nearer right than such exegetes as Kierkegaard, who would make the Christian callously indifferent to ordinary human needs, have had no little difficulty in fitting into their picture the unconcern of Jesus about the morrow, his apparent approval, in the parable, of the employer's distribution of wages, his teaching that poverty is a better soil for goodness than wealth, and his indifference to politics. What he was primarily interested in was the springs of conduct rather than any changes of circumstance in which it might issue. Secondly, if our own chief good is a loving temper, it must also be the good of others, and the best service we can render them is to encourage them too to cultivate that better part which is not, like the tangible goods we might give them, liable to be taken away. Jesus developed no special technique for disseminating this temper of spirit. He was confident that if he approached men with transparent liking and trust, love would be its own interpreter, and they would repay him in kind; malignance could not hold out against a firm affection; ‘fear wist not to evade as love wist to pursue’; the enemy would cease to be an enemy when he realized that he was fighting nothing but an invincible good will. Jesus committed himself to carrying through in practice this amazing adventure in universal affection, and kept his confidence in it till near the end, when, for a moment at least—a moment not easy to bear, even in retrospect—he thought his trust had been flung back in his face by both God and man.
11. We are of course not concerned here with developing the Christian ethic as a whole, any more than we were with the Greek ethic. Any adequate account of it would have to show how the love of men was bound up in the thought of the founder with the love of God, how morals were blended with, and inseparable from, religion. We cannot go into these matters, important as they are. What we want to point out is the extraordinary antithesis between the Greek and Christian ideas of goodness, and the resulting tension in the history of western thought between the ethics of reason and the ethics of feeling and attitude. The Greek gentleman, as Aristotle painted him, was a man who, with a high native intelligence, carefully cultivated, ordered his life deliberately and in detail with reference to an end defined by reason, and would have regarded the suggestion that he direct himself by the promptings of love, poured out alike upon man and woman, citizen, barbarian, and slave, as fantastic sentimentality. The early Christian was a man who thought that the one thing needful was to feel towards men as brothers and towards God as Father; about ‘the wisdom of this world’—the scientific knowledge, dialectical acuteness, and philosophic sweep of Aristotle, for example—he knew and cared nothing. So far as we know, the Greek and Hebrew conceptions of life were worked out in complete independence of each other. Aristotle might have heard, but apparently never did, of those Hebrew prophets in whom many of Jesus’ attitudes were foreshadowed; and there are no traces in Jesus’ teaching of the slightest influence from the great succession of Greek thinkers. This is the more striking because in the Palestine of his day, the Greek language must have flowed freely round him, and he was not averse, like many of his countrymen, to contacts with foreigners. There is a curious incongruity, however, in the very thought of Jesus in conversation with a man like Aristotle. One can only suppose that the calculating and distinguishing ethical method of the Greek rationalist would have been scarcely less repellent to him than the Greek moral ideal.
12. The history of western ethics has been largely an attempt to define precisely the part played in good conduct by the Greek and Christian components and bring them into some sort of harmony. It is obvious that the intelligence which can view an action in the light of its consequences is in some sense important in recognizing and doing the right act. It is equally obvious than an act which has precisely the same consequences as another may be morally inferior to it if done from hatred rather than love, and therefore that the beginning of an act as well as its end, the inward state as well as the outward result, is morally important. If we were asked which was the more important, we should hardly care to answer. We value each enormously, though in different ways. Indeed they are the foundations of the two main types of goodness that we recognize. Among the heroes of the modern world are many men whose inner life was probably somewhat commonplace, but who are nevertheless placed on high pedestals by reason of the intelligence and power with which they ‘organized victory’ and refashioned the political order, men like Cromwell, Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, perhaps Lenin. On the other hand, an idolatry equally strong has been given to the heroes of the other moral tradition, who, regardless of their outward accomplishment, are safe in mens’ affections for what they were, men like St Francis, John Woolman, and Gandhi. Each of us has elements of both these human types in his own nature; indeed all moral conduct seems to be the product at once of feeling and of more or less intelligent design. And the questions pressed themselves on moral analysts: are both these components essential in conduct that is morally admirable, and if so what is it that each contributes?
To begin with, are both of them really essential? This has not always been admitted. Fortunately the matter has been put to something like an empirical test. History has provided a large-scale laboratory in which astonishingly radical experiments have been tried; whole lives have been lived, and lived by great men with remarkable courage and consistency, on the theory that one or other of the two components could be dispensed with. In the next chapter we shall describe an experiment in the surrender to reason, to the almost total exclusion of feeling; in the chapter following an experiment in the surrender to feeling, to the almost total exclusion of reason. The outcome of these experiments should be illuminating.