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PROBLEMS OF CONDUCT
AN INTRODUCTORY SURVEY OF ETHICS
A.M. (Harvard) Ph.D. (Columbia)
Associate Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Religion at Wesleyan
BOSTON NEW YORK CHICAGO
TO THE DEAR TWO WHOSE INTEREST IN PROBLEMS OF CONDUCT FIRST AWAKENED
MINE AND WHOSE EAGERNESS TO KNOW AND DO REMAINS UNDIMMED BY THE
YEARS MY FATHER AND MY MOTHER
This book represents in substance a course of lectures and discussions
given first at the University of Illinois and later at Wesleyan
University. It was written to meet the needs both of the college
student who has the added guidance of an instructor, and of the
generalreader who has no such assistance. The attempt has been
made to keep the presentation simple and clear enough to need no
interpreter, and by the list of readings appended to each chapter,
to make a self directed further study of any point easy and alluring.
These references are for the most part to books in English, easily
accessible, and both intelligible and interesting to the ordinary
untrained reader or undergraduate. Some articles from the popular
reviews have been included, which, if not always authoritative,
are interesting and suggestive.
The function of the instructor who should use this as a textbook would
consist, first, in making sure that the text was thoroughly read and
understood; secondly, in raising doubts, suggesting opposing views,
conducting a discussion with the object of making the student think
for himself; and, thirdly, in adding new material and illustration
and directing the outside readings which should supplement this
purposely brief and summary treatment. The books to which reference
is made in the lists of readings, and other books approved by the
instructor, should be kept upon reserved shelves for the constant
use of the class in the further study of questions suggested by
the text or raised in the classroom.
It will be noticed that the disputes and the technical language of
theorists have been throughout so far as possible avoided. The
discussion of historical theories and isms' is unnecessarily
bewildering to the beginner; and the aim has been rather to keep as
close as possible to the actual experience of the student and the
language of everyday life. Far more attention is given than in most
books on ethics to concrete contemporary problems. After all, an
insight into the fallacies of the reasoning of the various ethical
schools, an ability to know what they are talking about and glibly
refute them, is of less importance than an acquaintance with, and a
firm, intelligent attitude toward, the vital moral problems and
movements of the day. I have prayed to be saved from academic
abstractness and remoteness, and to go as straight as I could to the
real perplexities from which men suffer in deciding upon their conduct.
The purpose of a study of ethics is, primarily, to get light for the
guidance of life. And so, while referring to authors who differ from
the views here expressed, I have sought to impart a definite conception
of relative values, to offer a thread for guidance through the
labyrinth of moral problems, and to effect a heightened realization
of the importance and the possibilities of right living.
It is necessary, indeed, in order to justify and clarify our concrete
moral judgments, that we should reach clear and firmly grounded
conclusions upon the underlying abstract questions. And the habit of
laying aside upon occasion one's instinctive or habitual moral
preferences and discussing with open mind their justification and
rationality is of great value to the individual and to society. Hence
the first two Parts of this volume take up, as simply as is consonant
with the really intricate questions involved, the history of the
development of human morality and the psychological foundation of moral
obligations and ideals. The exposition of the meaning of right and
wrong there unfolded serves as a basis for the sound solution of the
confused concrete issues, private and then public, which are discussed
in the remainder of the volume.
An introductory outline of any subject must inevitably be superficial.
To explain all the discriminations that are important to the
specialist, to justify thoroughly all the positions taken, to do
adequate justice to opposing views, would require ten volumes instead
of one. And though there is a crying need of scholarly and elaborate
discussion of the endless problems of morality, there is a prior need
for the student of surveying the field, seeing what the problems are,
how they are related, and what is approximately certain. The impression
left by many ethical treatises, that everything is matter for dispute
and no moral judgments are reliable, seems to me unfortunate; I have
preferred to incur the charge of dogmatism rather than to fall into
that error to offer a clear cut set of standards, to which exception
will be taken by this critic or that, rather than to hold out to the
student a chaos of confused possibilities.
No originality of viewpoint is claimed for this book. Its raison d'etre
is simply to provide a clearer, more concrete, and more concisely
comprehensive view of the nature of morality and its summons to men
than has seemed to me available. I have drawn freely upon the thoughts
of ethical teachers, classic and contemporary. These ideas are, or
ought to be, common property; and it has been impracticable to trace
them to their sources and offer detailed acknowledgment. Nothing has
been presented here that has not first passed through the crucible
of my own thinking and experience; and where the sparks came from that
kindled each particular thought I am sure I do not know.
Portions of chapters xxi and xxix have appeared in the Forum and North
American Review respectively; to the editors of these periodicals my
thanks are due for permission to reprint.
MlDDLETOWN, CONN, August 3, 1914.
What is the field of ethics? Why should we study ethics?
PART I. THE EVOLUTION OF MORALITY
CHAPTER I. THE ORIGIN OF PERSONAL MORALITY...
How early in the evolutionary process did personal morality
of some sort emerge?
What were the main causes that produced personal morality? How far
has the moralizing process been blind and how far conscious?
CHAPTER II. THE ORIGIN OF SOCIAL MORALITY...
How early was social morality developed?
By what means was social morality produced?
How has morality been fostered by the tribe?
CHAPTER III. OUTWARD DEVELOPMENT-MORALS...
What is the difference between morals and non-moral customs?
What, in general, has been the direction of moral progress?
What definition of morality emerges from this?
Is moral progress certain?
CHAPTER IV. INWARD DEVELOPMENT-CONSCIENCE...
What are the stages in the history of moral guidance?
Out of what has conscience developed?
What is conscience now?
What is the value of conscience?
CHAPTER V. THE INDIVIDUALIZING OF CONSCIENCE...
Why did not the individualizing of conscience occur earlier?
What forces made against custom-morality?
Conservatism vs. radicalism. What are the dangers of conventional
CHAPTER VI. CAN WE BASE MORALITY UPON CONSCIENCE...
What is the meaning of "moral intuitionism"?
Do the deliverances of different people's consciences agree?
If conscience everywhere agreed in its dictates, could we base
morality upon it?
What is the plausibility of moral intuitionism?
PART II. THE THEORY OF MORALITY
CHAPTER VII. THE BASIS OF RIGHT AND WRONG...
What is the nature of that intrinsic goodness upon which ultimately
all valuations rest?
What is extrinsic goodness?
What sort of conduct, then, is good?
And how shall we define virtue?
CHAPTER VIII. THE MEANING OF DUTY...
Why are there conflicts between duty and inclination?
Must we deny that duty is the servant of happiness?
Does the end justify the means?
What is the justification of justice and chivalry?
CHAPTER IX. THE JUDGMENT OF CHARACTER...
Wherein consists goodness of character?
Can we say, with Kant, that the only good is the Good Will?
What evils may go with conscientiousness?
What is the justification of praise and blame?
What is responsibility?
CHAPTER X. THE SOLUTION OF PERSONAL PROBLEMS...
What are the inadequacies of instinct and impulse that necessitate
What factors are to be considered in estimating the worth
of personal moral ideals?
Epicureanism vs. Puritanism.
What are the evils in undue self-indulgence?
What are the evils in undue self-repression?
CHAPTER XI. THE SOLUTION OF SOCIAL PROBLEMS...
Why should we be altruistic?
What is the exact meaning of selfishness and unselfishness?
Are altruistic impulses always right?
What mental and moral obstacles hinder altruistic action?
How can we reconcile egoism and altruism?
CHAPTER XII. OBJECTIONS AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS...
Do men always act for pleasure or to avoid pain?
Are pleasures and pains incommensurable?
Are some pleasures worthier than others?
Is morality merely subjective and relative?
CHAPTER XIII. ALTEBNATIVE THEORIES...
Is morality "categorical," beyond need of justification?
Should we live "according to nature," and adjust ourselves
to the evolutionary process?
Is self-development, or self-realization, the ultimate end?
Is the source of duty the will of God?
CHAPTER XIV. THE WORTH OF MORALITY...
Morality as the organization of human interests.
Do moral acts always bring happiness somewhere?
Is there anything better than morality?
PART III. PERSONAL MORALITY
CHAPTER XV. HEALTH AND EFFICIENCY...
What is the moral importance of health?
Can we attain to greater health and efficiency?
Is continued idleness ever justifiable?
Are competitive athletics desirable? Is it wrong to smoke?
CHAPTER XVI. THE ALCOHOL PROBLEM...
What are the causes of the use of alcoholic drinks?
What are the evils that result from alcoholic liquors?
What should be the attitude of the individual toward
alcoholic liquors? What should be our attitude toward the use of
alcoholic liquors by others?
CHAPTER XVII. CHASTITY AND MARRIAGE...
What are the reasons for chastity before and fidelity after
marriage? What safeguards against unchastity are necessary?
What are the factors in an ideal marriage? 1Is divorce morally
CHAPTER XVIII. FELLOWSHIP, LOYALTY, AND LUXURY...
what social relationships impose claims upon us?
What general duties do we owe our fellows?
Are the rich justified in living in luxury?
Is it wrong to gamble, bet, or speculate?
CHAPTER XIX. TRUTHFULNESS AND ITS PROBLEMS...
What are the reasons for the obligation of truthfulness?
What exceptions are allowable to the duty of truthfulness?
In what directions are our standards of truthfulness low?
The ethics of journalism.
CHAPTER XX. CULTURE AND ART...
What is the value of culture and art?
What is most important in cultural education?
What dangers are there in culture and art for life?
Should art be censored in the interests of morality?
CHAPTER XXI. THE MECHANISM OF SELF-CONTROL...
What are our potentialities of greater self-control?
A practicable mechanism of self-control.
Various accessories and safeguards.
CHAPTER XXII. THE ATTAINABILITY OF HAPPINESS...
The threefold key to happiness:
I. Hearty allegiance to duty.
II. Hearty acquiescence in our lot.
III. Hearty appreciation of the wonder and beauty in life.
Can we maintain a steady under glow of happiness?
PART IV. PUBLIC MORALITY
CHAPTER XXIII. PATRIOTISM AND WORLD-PEACE...
What is the meaning and value of patriotism? How should patriotism
be directed and qualified? What have been the benefits of war? What
are the evils of war? What can we do to hasten world-peace?
CHAPTER XXIV. POLITICAL PURITY AND EFFICIENCY...
What are the forces making for corruption in politics?
What are the evil results of political corruption?
What is the political duty of the citizen?
What legislative checks to corruption are possible?
CHAPTER XXV. SOCIAL ALLEVIATION...
What is the duty of the State in regard to:
I. Sickness and preventable death?
II. Poverty and inadequate living conditions?
III. Commercialized vice?
CHAPTER XXVI. INDUSTRIAL WRONGS...
In our present organization of industry, what are the duties of
I. To the public?
II. To investors?
III. To competitors?
IV. To employees?
What general remedies for industrial wrongs are feasible?
CHAPTER XXVII. INDUSTRIAL RECONSTRUCTION...
Ought the trusts to be broken up, or regulated?
What are the ethics of the following schemes:
I. Trade-unions and strikes?
II. Profit-sharing, cooperation, consumers' leagues?
III. Government regulation of prices, profits, and wages?
CHAPTER XXVIII. LIBERTY AND LAW...
What are the essential aspects of the ideal of liberty?
The ideal of individualism. The ideal of legal control.
Should existing laws always be obeyed?
CHAPTER XXIX. EQUALITY AND PRIVILEGE...
What flagrant forms of inequality exist in our society?
What methods of equalizing opportunity are possible?
What are the ethics of:
I. The single tax?
II. Free trade and protection?
III. The control of immigration?
IV. The woman's movement?
CHAPTER XXX. THE FUTURE OF THE RACE...
In what ways should the State seek to better human environment?
What should be done in the way of public education?
hat can be done by eugenics?
What are the gravest moral dangers of our times?
PROBLEMS OF CONDUCT
What is the field of ethics?
To know what exists, in its stark reality, is the concern of natural
science and natural philosophy; to know what matters, is the field
of moral philosophy, or ethics. The one group of studies deals with
facts simply as facts, the other with their values. Human life is
checkered with the sunshine and shadow of good and evil, joy and pain;
it is these qualitative differences that make it something more than
a meaningless eddy in the cosmic whirl. Natural philosophy (including
the physical and psychological sciences), drawing its impartial map
of existence, is interesting and important; it informs us about our
environment and ourselves, shows us our resources and our powers, what
we can do and how to do it. Moral philosophy asks the deeper and more
significant question, What SHALL we do? For the momentous fact about
life is that it has differences in value, and, more than that, that
we can MAKE differences in value. Caught as we are by the irresistible
flux of existence, we find ourselves able so to steer our lives as
to change the proportion of light and shade, to give greater value
to a life that might have had less. This possibility makes our moral
problem. What shall we choose and from what refrain? To what aims shall
we give our allegiance? What shall we fight for and what against?
For the savage practically all of his activity is determined by his
imperative needs, so that there is little opportunity for choice or
reflection upon the aims of his life. He must find food, and
shelter, and clothing to keep himself warm and dry; he must protect
himself from the enemies that menace him, and rest when he is tired.
Nor are most of us today far removed from that primitive condition;
the moments when we consciously choose and steer our course are few
and fleeting. Yet with the development of civilization the elemental
burdens are to some extent lifted; men come to have superfluous
strength, leisure hours, freedom to do something more than merely
earn their living. And further, with the development of
intelligence, new ways of fulfilling the necessary tasks suggest
themselves, moral problems arise where none were felt before. Men
learn that they have not made the most of their opportunities or
lived the best possible lives; they have veered this way and that
according to the moment's impulse, they have been misled by
ingrained habits and paralyzed by inertia, they have wandered at
random for lack of a clear vision of their goal. The task of the
moralist is to attain such a clear vision; to understand, first, the
basis of all preference, and then, in detail, the reasons for
preferring this concrete act to that. Here are a thousand impulses
and instincts drawing us, with infinite further possibilities
suggesting themselves to reflection; the more developed our natures
the more frequently do our desires conflict. Why is any one better
than another? How can we decide between them? Or shall we perhaps
disown them all for some other and better way.
Man's effort to solve these problems is revealed outwardly in a
multitude of precepts and laws, in customs and conventions; and
inwardly in the sense of duty and shame, in aspiration, in the
instinctive reactions of praise, blame, contentment, and remorse. The
leadings of these forces are, however, often divergent, sometimes
radically so. We must seek a completer insight. There must be some
best way of solving the problem of life, some happiest, most useful
way of living; its pursuit constitutes the field of ethics. Nothing
could be more practical, more vital, more universally human.
Why should we study ethics?
(1) The most obvious reason for the study of ethics is that we may
get more light for our daily problems. We are constantly having to
choose how we shall act and being perplexed by opposing advantages.
Decide one way or the other we must. On what grounds shall we decide?
How shall we feel assured that we are following a real duty, pursuing
an actual good, and not being led astray by a mere prejudice or
convention? The alternative is, to decide on impulse, at haphazard,
after some superficial and one-sided reflection; or to think the matter
through, to get some definite criteria for judgments, and to face the
recurrent question, what shall we do? In the steady light of those
principles. [Footnote: Cf. Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism, vol.
i: "Marcus Aurelius," opening paragraph: "The object of systems of
morality is to take possession of human life, to save it from being
abandoned to passion or allowed to drift at hazard, to give it happiness
by establishing it in the practice of virtue; and this object they
seek to attain by presenting to human life fixed principles of action,
fixed rules of conduct. In its uninspired as well as in its inspired
moments, in its days of languor or gloom as well as in its days of
sunshine and energy, human life has thus always a clue to follow, and
may always be making way towards its goal."]
(2) In addition to the fact that we all have unavoidable problems which
we must solve one way or another, a little familiarity with life, an
acquaintance with the biographies of great and good men, should lead
us to suspect that beyond the horizon of these immediate needs lie
whole ranges of beautiful and happy living to which comparatively few
ever attain. There are better ways of doing things than most of us
have dreamed. The study of ethics should reveal these vistas and
stimulate us to a noble discontent with our inferior morals. [Footnote:
Cf. Emerson, in a letter to Fraulein Gisela von Arnim: "In reading
your letter, I felt, as when I read rarely a good novel, rebuked that
I do not use in my life these delicious relations; or that I accept
anything inferior or ugly."] Such a forward look and development of
ideals not only adds greatly to the worth of life but prepares a man
to meet perplexities and temptations which may some day arise. It pays
to educate one's self for future emergencies by meditating not only
upon present problems but upon the further potentialities of conduct,
right and wrong, that may lie ahead, and building up a code for one's
self that will make life not only richer but steadier and more secure.
(3) Another advantage of a systematic study of ethics is that it can
make clearer to us WHY one act is better than another; why duty is
justified in thwarting our inclinations and conscience is to be obeyed.
Not only is this an intellectual gain, but it is an immense
fortification to the will. There comes a time in the experience of
every thinking man when a command not reinforced by a reason breeds
distrust, and when until he can intelligently defend an ideal he will
hesitate to give it his allegiance. Morality, to be depended upon,
must be not a mere matter of breeding and convention, or of impulse
and emotion, but the result of rational insight and conscious resolve.
To many people morality seems nothing but convention, or an arbitrary
tyranny, or a mysterious and awful necessity, something extraneous
to their own desires, from which they would like to escape. To be able
to refute these skeptics, expose the sophisms and specious arguments
by which they support their wrongdoing, and show that they have chosen
the lesser good, is a valuable help to the community and to one's own
integrity of conduct. Too often the people perish for lack of vision;
an understanding of the naturalness and enormous desirability of
morality, together with an appreciation of its main injunctions, would
enlist upon its side many restless spirits who now chafe under a sense
of needless restraint and seek some delusory freedom which leads to
pain and death. Morality is simply the best way of living; and the
more fully men realize that, the more readily will they submit themselves
to the sacrifices it requires.
(4) Finally, a study of ethics should help us to see what are the
prevalent sins and moral dangers of our day, and thus arouse us to
put the weight of our blame and praise where they are needed. Widespread
public opinion is a force of incalculable power, which is largely
unused. Politics and business, and to a far greater extent than now
private life, will become clean and honest and kind just so soon as
a sufficient number of people wake up and demand it. We have the power
to make sins which are now generally tolerated and respectable, so
odious, so infamous, that they will practically disappear. There are
certain of the older forms of sin which the race in its long struggle
upward has so effectually blacklisted that only a few perverts now
lapse into them; we have execrated out of existence whole classes of
cruelty and vice. But with the changing and ever more complex relations
of society new forms of sin continually creep in; these we have not
yet come to brand with the odium they deserve. Leaders of society and
pillars of the church are often, and usually without disturbance of
conscience, guilty of wrongdoing as grave in its effects, or graver,
than many of the faults we relentlessly chastise. On the other hand,
many really useful reforms are blocked because they awaken old prejudices
or cross silly and meaningless conventions. The air is full of proposals,
invectives, causes, movements; how shall we know which to espouse and
which to reject, or where best to lend a hand? We need a consistent
and well-founded point of view from which to judge. To get such a sane
and far-sighted moral perspective; to see the acts of our fellow men
with a proper valuation; to be able to point out the insidious dangers
of conduct which is not yet as generally rebuked as it ought to be;
and at the same time to emancipate ourselves and others from the mistaken
and merely arbitrary precepts that are intermingled with our genuine
morality, and so attain the largest possible freedom of action, such
should be the outcome of a thorough study of ethical principles and
THE EVOLUTION OF MORALITY
THE ORIGIN OP PERSONAL MORALITY
In almost any field it is wise to precede definition by an impartial
survey of the subject matter. So if we are to form an unbiased
conception of what morality is, it will be safest to consider first
what the morals of men actually have been, how they came into being,
and what function they have served in human life. Thus we shall be
sure that our theory is in touch with reality, and be saved from mere
closet-philosophies and irrelevant speculations. Our task in this First
Part will be not to criticize by reference to any ethical standards,
but to observe and describe, as a mere bit of preliminary sociology,
what it is in their lives to which men have given the name "morality,"
of what use it has been, and through the action of what forces it has
tended to develop. With these data in mind, we shall be the better
able, in the Second Part, to formulate our criteria for judging the
different codes of morality; we shall find that we are but making