Franklin Henry Giddings.

Democracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations online

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Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 2 of 29)
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democratic spirit. It must confine itself practically to three
things, namely : the imperial defence, the suppression of
conflict between one part of the empire and another, and
insistence that local administration shall come up to a cer-
tain standard in its protection of life and property, and in
its respect for enlightenment. Doing these things and only
these, it can leave each component part of the empire to
evolve its own law and its own administration in its own
way, — to become, in short, as democratic as the spirit and
the experience of the people will permit.

This, then, is the secret of the democratic empire, — of that


empire which England has already brought to a wonderful
perfection, of that empire which the United States is des-
tined to create, and which we hope may, in the coming
centuries, be as strong, as free, as broad as any that the
world has ever seen. The ancient empire, governed in the
conviction that identity of belief and similarity of practice
were essential to the homogeneity without which no society
can long hold together, endeavoured to establish a perfect
unity of faith and of daily habit by coercive measures. The
modern empire, governed in the belief that a common loyalty
to certain common interests and fundamental principles is an
all-sufficient mode of homogeneity for the stability of a more
complex civilization than any that existed in ancient times,
insists only upon such loyalty, and trusts to the spontaneous
intercourse of men in the pursuit of their daily vocations to
bring about a further assimilation which ultimately will per-
fect the human race in the spirit of brotherhood, under the
single law of liberty.





Not least among the contributions to ethical science that
Mr. Herbert Spencer has made in his " Principles of Ethics "
is the clear and comprehensive description of conduct, viewed
as a natural phenomenon admitting of scientific observation
and analysis, which is presented in the opening chapters.
There we are shown that conduct is distinguished from ac-
tions in general by the exclusion of acts that are aimless
or purposeless. ^Qgnduct is the activity of a volitional being
who perceives that he has the power to modify his own ex-
istence, and who sets before himself an end to be attained. \
His conduct, then, differs from the merely physiologicar
activity of his body in being made up of a series of acts
adjusted to the end which he has in view. Good conduct,
in turn, may be described as consisting of acts which, as
means and on the whole, are well adapted to the attainment
•of such ends as the critical judgment pronounces to be in
themselves worth whUe, satisfying to a reason that has ex-
amined all of those possible ends or goals of action which have
thus far appealed to the mind.

If this description of conduct is accepted as being a fairly
•accurate one — and doubtless moralists of all schools admit
that, as a general account of conduct, Mr. Spencer's chapters
are true — a scientific study of morality necessarily includes
a critical examination of the ends which purposive activity
attempts to realize, and also a critical examination of the
motives by which we are impelled toward the attainment of
the end in view.

The study of ethical ends, as all students of moral systems
are painfully aware, has produced many differing hypothetical
goals of action. We have theological ethics, which assume



that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him
forever; we have utilitarian ethics, which assume that the
only practical good is the greatest happiness of the greatest
number; and we have idealistic ethics, which assume that
the perfection of the rational and spiritual nature of con-
scious personality itself is the only end that can satisfy the
rational mind.

In the study of motives, as it has found objective expres-
sion in moral literature, four distinct hypotheses may be dis-
covered. The first of these is, that there is a moral intui-
tion which is at once a revelation of right and an impelling
force, driving us onward toward the attainment of our moral
goal. The second hypothesis is, that there is a moral instinct,
which has either been created in us as a blind but trust-
worthy guide, or has been developed in us by evolutionary
processes through the experiences of countless generations-
of experimenting creatures who have learned to go right
after trying all the possible ways of going wrong. The
third hypothesis is, that there are certain classes and groups
of feelings more definite than instincts, which move us to
moral action ; the feelings, namely, which we know as sym-
pathies and affections. The fourth hypothesis is, that our
rationally conceived ideas of ethical ends themselves react as
motor forces, and draw or impel us to attempt to realize the
conceived ends.

These four hypotheses are commonly held to exhaust the
possible explanations of ethical motive. Believing that this
is an error, and that neither any one of these four assump-
tions nor any combination of them gives us an adequate
account of the psychological process whereby our voluntary
acts are organized into that series which we describe as con-
duct, I shall attempt in this paper to set forth another ex-
planation. There is a phase of the ethical process that,
appears to me to have a very great importance, and which,
I think, has hitherto not received a sufficient attention.

Since moral conduct consists of acts adjusted to ends, it is,
of course, impossible to discuss motives without first stating-


one's position in regard to ends. For my present purpose,
however, it is not necessary to decide between utilitarian-
ism and idealism. It is suiificient to say that both of these
schemes of conduct include in their conception of ends the
notion of a relatively large and growing mental life, and
of a more varied voluntary activity, as distinguished from
a diminishing consciousness, and from a reduction of pur-
posive to automatic or mechanical action. The utilitarian
does not set before himself a temporary or exhausting pleas-
ure ; he pictures rather the happiness which is concomitant
of large and varied life. The idealist no less distinctly looks
to the enlargement of the rational and spiritual nature as an
essential phase of that perfection which he desires. For the
purpose of the present argument, then, it is sufficient to say
that the moral motive is one that makes for largeness of
conscious life.

If so much is granted, the reader is prepared for a sug-
gestion which I have now to make. It is that, as a result
of studies which, in recent years, have been made in quite
another part of the psychological field, we are now, for the
first time, in a position to make discoveries in regard to the
origin and the strength of the moral impulses and in regard
to the conditions of their growth.

The studies to which I refer are those that have been
made in the psychology of economic activity, and which
have undertaken to explain the nature and to formulate the
laws of economic motive. Most readers, even those who are
not particularly interested in economic discussions, have by
this time some notion of the modern psychological theories
of utility and value. The names of Cournot, Gossen, Walras,
Monger, and Jevons have crept into current literature, and
nearly everybody knows the essential doctrine for which
they stand. We no longer think of utility as a quality in-
herent in objective things or conditions. Objects of our
strongest desire afford us more or less satisfaction according
to ever-varying circumstances. Food itself may please
or disgust, according as we are still hungry or have over-
indulged the appetite. Every commodity offered in the


market appeals strongly, or in slight degree, or not at all, to
the desires of possible purchasers,, according as they have
been able already to satisfy those desires in some measure
through a preceding supply. Psychologically, then, utility
and value are phenomena that diminish as the consumption
of the means of satisfying desire increases. Every want
admits of satisfaction, and every satisfaction may become

There are certain implications of this theory that have not
yet been duly examined by either economists or psychologists.
It is implied that an economic satisfaction is the pleasurable
activity of a particular organ or group of organs, at a par-
ticular time and in a particular way. For example, to return
to the illustration of the consumption of food, it is not main-
tained — and, of course, no one could maintain — that food
has a diminishing subjective utility at all times. Its value
to the organism falls as hunger is appeased, but with the re-
turn of appetite the subjective value of food again rises. In
like manner, it could not be maintained that the subjective
value of food must follow a descending curve, if food articles
had the power of ministering in equal degree to every organ
of the body. If, for example, a single class of material goods
afforded us all the pleasures that we craved, so that by means
of commodities fit for food we could satisfy the desires for
clothing, for shelter, for amusement, and for instruction, the
subjective values of these commodities would remain forever
at their maximum point. Subjective values, then, rise and\
fall simply because each commodity has the power of satis-
fying only the cravings of some particular organ or group
of organs, and usually under some particular combination of
conditions existing at a given time.

It is unnecessary to prove that within certain limits
these particular satisfactions indirectly minister to other
organs than those immediately active, and, indeed, to the
whole organism. Food not only satisfies the immediate
cravings of the stomach, but it affords the pleasures which
spring from the organic sensations of vigour. Neverthe-
less, it is perfectly obvious that there are limits, beyond


which the satisfaction of a particular organ or group of or-
gans may deprive other organs of those means of satisfaction
•which they crave, inhibit various activities, and deplete the en-
tire organism. The man who should spend all his sutetance
upon his table would, for that reason, be compelled to do
without other material gratifications ; he undoubtedly would
starve his intellectual nature, and, sooner or later, he would
reduce a large part of his physical system also to a condition
of atrophy.

This implication of the modern theory of subjective utility
is so obvious that further insistence upon it would seem to
be quite unnecessary. A second implication, if not quite so
obvious, is not less certain. If the cravings of a particular
organ or group of organs are being liberally met with appro-
priate satisfactions, while other organs suffer deprivation,
the neglected organs set up a protest, which usually is suffi-
ciently importunate to compel us to attempt their appeasing.
The hunger of the neglected parts of our nature normally
takes possession of consciousness, and diverts our attention
and our effort from the organ which is receiving more than
its due share of indulgence. Now this hunger of the entire
organism for a varied satisfaction, and this protest of the
entire organism against the over-indulgence of any one appe-
tite, is obviously a phenomenon quite distinct from those par-
ticularistic desires for specific satisfactions which in recent
years have been recognized as the specific economic motives.

Thus distinct and general, the craving of the organism for
integral satisfaction, and the organic protest against any ex-
cess of particularistic indulgence, constitute, I think, the
ethical motive in its original, physiological form.
y/There is, then, a real and fundamental difference between
^he economic motive and the ethical motive. The economic
/; motive is the desire for a particular satisfaction of a particu-
lar organ, in a particular way, at a particular time. The
I ethical motive is the desire for the varied satisfaction of the
gntire organism through continuing time.

This account of the subject is, of course, merely physio-
logical ; but I suppose that no modern psychologist will


object to discovering that even ethical phenomena have their
origin in physiological processes. Let us, however, turn
to the psychological aspect. A sharp organic craving for
a particular satisfaction always receives preferential atten-
tion in consciousness, and preferential attention is likely
to be unduly continued, and therefore to cause excessive
indulgence. A mere organic craving would diminish as the
point of satiety was approached. The least intelligent ani-
mals are less likely than man to carry any particular form
of consumption or activity to excess. It is, therefore, even
more true of man than of the lower animals that the hunger
and protest of neglected organs must take possession of
consciousness before the course of constimption or of activity
can be diverted into new channels. In other words, the
ethical motive plays psychologically a larger part in beings
having the greater power of attention, and especially of atten-
tion coloured by imagination.

In more technical terms, then, the economic motive is the
sum of those normal desires to which, at any given moment,
we are giving a preferential attention. The ethical motive
is the sum of those normal desires which, at the same given
moment, we are denying attention or forcing out of con-
sciousness by neglect, but which will presently assert them-
selves strongly enough to divert attention.

Strong confirmation of the truth of this analysis is afforded
by the popular view of that class of economic activities which
is most remotely and indirectly related to the immediate
satisfaction of particular wants. If the foregoing reasoning
is sound, the prudent and enterprising man, in laying by a
portion of his income, converting savings into working capital,
energetically improving new conditions, and organizing in-
dustrial methods, is acting from mixed motives. He is
moved partly by economic, but partly, also, by powerful
ethical desires. It is therefore interesting to remember that
these forms of industrial activity have always been regarded
as no less ethical than economic. Saving, frugality, thrift,
have, from immemorial time, been inculcated as duties. In
other words, when economy broadens out into a provision


for the expansion and the future development of life, eco-
nomic activity merges into ethical conduct.

In this broad distinction between economic and ethical
motives, I think we may discern the ground of a persistent
dissatisfaction with utilitarian ethics. The common mind
does not to any great extent think of pleasure in general'
terms. The average man thinks of pleasure concretely and
specifically, in terms of particular satisfactions. Duty or
right, on the contrary, the average man thinks of vaguely,
as something indefinable imposed upon him by a mass of
feelings which he cannot analyze and does not understand,
but which constrain him to inhibit specific desires and
to deny himself particular enjoyments. The common
mind, therefore, associates self-denial rather than pleasure
with organic well-being and with a continuous development
of either the bodily or the mental nature. The end to which
the acts of the ordinary individual are adjusted is a vaguely
conceived "welfare" or "salvation." It is only the culti-
vated mind that can distinctly picture to itself a greater
pleasure, a deeper happiness, as the concomitant of a larger
and sounder life. Consequently, the common mind always
shows a strong antipathy to systems of ethics which make
pleasure the end of moral action. Yet objectors have sel-
dom been able to meet the utilitarian argument. In other
words, it has been felt, rather than clearly seen, that between
economics and ethics there is a distinction which should
be discovered ; and that there must be something wrong
about an ethical theory that calls both motives by the same

Another and vastly more important phase of popular think-
ing is similarly explained by the foregoing account of the
ethical motive. When we have discovered that the ethical
motive arises as a reaction of the organism upon the organ,
of vague feelings en masse upon specific feeling, we have
discerned the real source of moral authority and the origin
of that half-superstitious conception of authority which still
holds the common mind in dumb distrust of reason. The
mass of mankind thinks of authority as something so abso-


lutely different from reason that it may oppose reason. The
mass of mankind also thinks of moral conduct as a course of
action which is prescribed by authority ; while it thinks of
economic activity as being indicated and guided by reason.
The explanation is not difficult to find, if there is a real and
great difference between the economic and the ethical motive.
By authority the average man means a power which con-
strains his will without his knowing or being able to find
out why. By reason he means a knowing why. Now it is
perfectly clear that, in pursuing economic ends, the average
man thinks that he knows why he does this or that. He acts
in a particular way because specific, clearly apprehended wants
clamour for satisfaction. It is not less clear that, in obeying
what he regards as an ethical mandate, the average man acts
without knowing why. A mass of vague feelings and ideas
arises within his consciousness in protest against certain in-
dulgences, or constraining him to something which he feels to
be a duty, although he cannot possibly explain to himself why
he feels or caUs it duty. That is to say, the average man can
clearly apprehend the economic motive ; he knows, or thinks
he knows, the whys and the wherefores of his economic life ;
and therefore he thinks that the economic life lies within the
domain of reason. The average man cannot clearly appre-
hend the ethical motive, analyze it into its elements, or dis-
cover its origins. He does not know why he is moral ; yet
he feels himself constrained to try to be moral. Therefore
he believes that morality is imposed upon him by authority —
in other words, by a power that constrains his will without re-
vealing to him how or why ; and he regards with distrust any
intrusion of reason into the ethical domain. So conceiving
of reason and authority, and having within his own conscious-
ness an experimental acquaintance vnth authority, the aver-
age man easily passes from a deference to the moral authority
that is internally known, to a reverence for any external
authority that is impressively asserted, and allows himself to
regard the external authority as, like the moral authority
within himself, superior to reason.

Has this discrimination of the ethical from the economic


motive a practical value, or is it of merely theoretical interest ?
It has, I think, a twofold practical value.

First, if a truthful account has been given of the relations
which the common notion of authority bears to the ethical
motive, the importance of cultivating rationalistic habits of
thought is strongly emphasized. Moral authority is real; and,
in a sense, it is independent of reason. It is deeper, more
fundamental, more nearly primitive as a part of human con-
sciousness than reason is ; but it is not independent of organic
conditions, and therefore is not apart from or in any way
independent of the complex processes of natural causation.
Keason alone can enable man to perceive the true nature and
origin of moral authority, and thereby to avoid the dangers to
human well-being that still linger in the popular confusion of
moral with external or supposedly supernatural authority.
Only through the rationalistic habit of mind can men come to
understand how important it is, on the one hand, to assert the
rightful supremacy of moral authority, and, on the other hand,
to deny the rightfulness of any external authority other than a
common or social consciousness of the reality and rightfulness
of the moral authority in each individual. It is, therefore, of
supreme importance to continue without quarter to fight that
obscurantism which is still endeavouring to keep the control
of thought and conduct within the hands of those who assume
to rule the spiritual domain by right of divine anointment.

The discrimination of the ethical from the economic motive
has, I think, secondly, a practical value because it enables
us to reaffirm with renewed assurance certain rules for the
strengthening of ethical impulses which have long been
recognized, but which have never been regarded as authorita-
tive. If they follow legitimately as deductions from the prin-
ciple which has here been laid down, their authority is clear.

Ethical motives, as all recognize, may be strengthened both
by teaching and by activity. If I have rightly described the
ethical motive, it is possible to see with much clearness what
teaching and what activity are necessary for ethical culture,
and to see, also, the order in which principles are to be empha-
sized and activities are to be encouraged.


Ethical motives, then, are to be strengthened, first, by re-
affirming the doctrine, older even than any teaching of the
Greeks, that the efficient cause of morality is manly and
womanly power, — is that vitality which, by its own insis-
tence, creates a demand for expansion and variation of life.
The ethical motive, as we have seen, springs from physiolog-
ical conditions ; and, as power, it is derived from vitality.
To neglect bodily development, therefore, is not merely to do
wrong in a sense which all intelligent persons now recognize,
by impairing the health that is in itself a good, but in the
much deeper sense of impairing the very springs of moral

The ethical motive may be strengthened, secondly, by rec-
ognizing and teaching that varied experiences of pleasure,
within limits of moderation, are essential to the existence of
a consciously moral motive and a moral life. The organism
which has had repeated experiences of many different kinds
of enjoyment, associated with the normal activity of every
organ, is the one that reacts most promptly and vigorously
against any sort of excess or any over-indulgence in a par-
ticular pleasure. The hedonists are absolutely right in their
fundamental contention. Morality without pleasure of some
kind or composition is unthinkable. As certainly as specific
pleasures are the springs of economic action, so certainly are
varied, measured, and combined pleasures the springs of moral
action. The task of moral philosophy is not to condemn
pleasure ; it is rather to show how differently pleasures are
combined and presented in consciousness, when they enter
into the moral motive, than when they incite economic effort.
We must frankly admit the essential goodness of pleasure,
and deny that asceticism is in any sense ethical.

The ethical motive may be strengthened, thirdly, by re-
affirming that excess is the fundamental wrong. By permit-
ting attention to dwell too long or too exclusively upon any
one object of desire, we in some measure destroy the power
of other desires, and not only dwarf our lives, but impair the
moral motive. And this is just as true when our excesses
are on the side of those things that are conventionally called


"virtues," as when they are on the side of pleasures that,
public opinion condemns. In other words, the over-zealous
Puritan, the moral or religious fanatic, the uncompromising
political radical, when they refuse to recognize any interest,
in life other than the ones to which they are devoted, are, in
the light of the physiological and psychological analysis which,
has been presented, as immoral as the drunkard and the lib-
ertine. If this analysis is true, the middle way, which Aris-
totle described as the only true road of virtue, is indeed
such ; and no one can wander from it to the right hand any
more than to the left, without falling into wrong.

The ethical motive is to be strengthened, fourthly, by
teaching that next to moderation is the importance of culti-
vating a varied outlook and sympathy, and of cherishing
ideals as an intellectual duty.

This is an age of specialization and of commercial stand-

Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 2 of 29)