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D.LiTT., D.C.L., LL.D


LONDON: T. C. & E. C. J A C 7C

R Hi



* It is scarcely possible for anyone who has written a
'"j* large book on a subject to write a smaller one a few
3^ears later without, to a considerable extent, repeating
^ ' himself. Tliis Uttle book is necessarily Httle more than
^ a condensation of my Theory of Good atid Evil. I have
^ never written with that work before me, but I have not
^ taken any particular pains to avoid repeating expres-
' sions or illustrations which occur in the larger book.
'*^ There are, however, some criticisms upon a recent phase
of Emotional Ethics which have not appeared before.
This explanation seems desirable to prevent anyone who
has already read the Theory of Good and Evil expecting
to find much that is new, while it gives me the oppor-
tunity of referring to that work any reader wha wants
further explanation of the positions here taken up or
answers to objections which will naturally present them-
selves. While I have tried in this volume not to conceal
difficulties or to save the student from the labour of
thought, I have endeavoured to make it a really ele-
mentary introduction to the subject.
















An exact definition of the scope or subject-matter of a
Science is generally reached only at a late stage of its
development, and the individual student will Ukewise
get a clearer conception of what the Science is when he
knows something of its subject-matter than he can
possibly obtain from any formal definition with which
he may be presented at the outset of his studies. I shall
not therefore attempt at the present moment an} - very
elaborate account of the scope or aim of Ethics, but
will content myself with saying that it deals with the
nature of Morality. We all use the terms good and
evil, right and wrong. The question is ^hat we mean
or ought to mean by these terms — what is the real
meaning and nature of " good " or " right " ? Ethics
or (to use the older term) Moral Philosophy is a Science
which deals AWth all the questions which can possibly
be raised about the good and the right. In particular
it 'will be found that the general question breaks itself
up into three main enquiries :

(1) What is the general nature of good or evil, right
and wrong — ^^•hat at bottom do we mean when we
pronounce such and such a thing to be good, such and
such an act to be right ?

(2) Assuming that there is some real meanuig in the
terms, that they do correspond to some real distinction


in the nature of things, the question arises, " By what
part of our nature, by which of the various activities
or capacities of the human mind do we recognize these
distmctions ? " What, at bottom, are the judgements
that we usually call moral judgements ? Are they
merely attempts to express in words a particular kind
of feehng or emotion, or are they a specific kind of
intellectual judgement ? Or are they neither the one nor
the other — neither feeling nor thought nor any com-
bination of the two, but something absolutely sui
generis ? This question may conveniently be called the
question of the Moral Faculty.

(3) Granting that we know what in a general way we
mean by calling an act right or wrong, there arises the
further question, " How can we find out what particular
acts are right and what acts are wTong ? By -v^hat
principle are we or ought we to be guided in calUng
particular acts right or \\Tong ? " This question is
generally known as the question of the Moral Criterion.

We shall find that these three questions are far from
representing three separate and distinct enquiries. They
are really aspects of one and the same fundamental
problem ; but the questions have not always presented
themselves in this way, and it wiU tend to clearness if
we discuss them separately, and in the order indicated.
Before proceeding to do so, it will be well to say a
word as to the relation of our Science to certain other
Sciences with which it is closely connected.

The Science of Psychology deals with all the activi-
ties or aspects of our mental life — sensation, feehng,
emotion, thought, volition. It aims at distinguishing
these various sides of our mental nature, and discover-
mg everything that can be discovered about them
considered simply as facts of experience. It is clear
that, since moral emotions, moral judgements, moral
ideas are part of our mental life, they must from one


point of view fall within the province of Psychology,
and attempts have often been made to treat Ethics
simply as a branch of that Science. But this is possible
only from the point of view of those who deny any real
truth or validity to such ideas as " ought," " right,"
" wrong." A knowledge of psychological facts must
obviously be the basis of any sound system of Ethics :
it must supply the data for Ethics, since all that Ave
know about right and wrong is derived from the facts
of conscious life, but it can never take the place of
Ethics. Psychology has nothing to do with the truth
or vaUdity of our thoughts or ideas ; for Psychology an
erroneous judgement or a logical fallacy is just as much
a fact as a true judgement or a valid inference. Psycho-
logy as such knows of no distinction between them ; it
has got to explain their occurrence as so many events
in time related in certain constant ways to other events.
Directly we raise the question of validity, we enter
upon the province of Logic. Equally little has Psycho-
logy to do with the validity of our ethical judgements.
Whether I am or am not capable of desiring something
besides pleasure, whether I have or have not a sense of
duty, whether there is or is not such a thing as a " sense
of obligation " in my mind — these are no doubt ques-
tions for the Psychologist to consider, and it is of the
utmost importance for Ethics that they should be de-
cided rightly ; but the question whether I ought to
desire something besides pleasure, whether there is any
truth or validity in my idea of duty, whether there is
anything in the nature of things corresponding to the
sense of obligation, or whether, on the other hand, such
ideas as duty or moral obligation are as much subjective
fictions as the notion of a chimera or of a fairy — these
are questions about which the Psychologist as such
has nothing to say. The question of validity is for
another Science. From this point of view Ethics (like


Logic and ^Esthetics (the Science of the Beautiful), is
sometimes called a normative Science — since it does not
deal simply with matters of fact, but aims at providing
a " norm " or pattern, which our judgements and our
actions ought to follow. The phrase undoubtedly cor-
responds to a real distinction between these Sciences
and any branch of Natural Science ; but it must not
be taken to imply that in these Sciences we are not
dealing with real matters of fact or objective truth.
If the distinctions " true and false," " right and wrong,"
" beautiful and ugly " are really vahd distinctions,
i.e. if moral and sesthetic judgements admit of any abso-
lute truth or falsehood, the}' express facts about the
ultimate nature of Reality as much as the Sciences
which deal with matters of a physical or a psychological

The Science of Metaphysic deals with the most ulti-
mate of all questions — the ultimate nature of Reality,
of Being and of Knowing, and of the relation between
them. From one point of view it might seem that
Ethics, being concerned not with Reality in general but
with one particular department or aspect of Reality, has
no closer connection with Metaphysic than any other
of the special Sciences, each of which deals with some
special department or aspect of Reality — Mathematics
with quantity and number, Physics with mass and
motion. Chemistry with the ultimate composition of
material things, &c. But the ideas of good and evil,
if valid at all, represent such a very important aspect
of Reality in general, and our views about them depend
so closely upon our theory about the ultimate nature
of Reality in general and the nature and validity of
knowledge in general, that in practice it is scarcely
possible to keep the subjects altogether apart. No
thorough -going discussion as to the nature of Reality
in general can fail to give some account of the parti-


cular aspect of Reality which is expressed by the terms
*' right and wrong," " good and evil " ; no thorough-
going account of the nature of Morality can fail to
connect itself very closely with a general theory of the
Universe. Hence no great Metaphysician has failed to
deal in some way, however incidentally, with Ethics,
while the greatest writers on Ethics have also been
writers on general Metaphysics or Philosophy.^ There
are, however, some special questions connected with
Ethics which have no very close connection with Meta-
physics — notably the question of the Moral Criterion,
and this question has often been neglected by those
who have regarded Ethics merely as a branch of Meta-
physics. Questions of classification are in the main
questions of convenience. Ethics may best be regarded
as a branch of Philosophy (and this fact recommends
the use of the old-fashioned term Moral Philosophy),
but as a special branch of it, distinct from, though very
closely connected with. Metaphysics.

There is one very practical reason why it is impossible
to deal with Ethics without raising metaphysical ques-
tions. It might no doubt be possible to assume that
we can trust our moral ideas, and to go on to enquire
what in detail these ideas are ; just as the Geometrician
assumes that there are such things as space and quantity,
and that we know in a general way ^^•hat they are, and
proceeds to analyse our actual notions about them in
detail. But there is this difficulty in the way of adopt-
ing a similar attitude in dealing with Ethics. It would
certainly be held by many philosophers that there are
systems of Metaphysic which undermine the validity

^ The term Philosophy is generally omployed to denote the
whole group of Philosophical Sciences — Logic, Ethics, j¥>stbetics,
Politics, Sociology, perhaps Psychology — as well as Metaphysic,
but Metaphysic may be described as par acceUcnce the Philosophical
Science, and the terra Philosophy is sometimes used practically to
mean Metaphysic.


of all our knowledge and reduce the conclusions of
Science to mere subjective illusions. But in practice
such speculations exercise httle or no influence upon
the respect with which the positive or physical Sciences
are treated, even by the upholders of such sceptical
or destructive philosophies. A teacher of Arithmetic
may be in Philosophy a disciple of Hume or Mill, and as
such may declare that it is not absolutely certain that
2 + 2 = 4, but in practice he would never think of sparing
the rod if one of his pupils did his sums on that prin-
ciple. In Ethics unfortunately it cannot be assumed
that speculative views as to the ultimate basis of the
Science exercise no influence upon men's practical atti-
tude towards its conclusions. The validity of our ethical
thinking is often explicitly denied on what are really
metaphysical grounds, and a full and complete answer
to such doubts or denials cannot be given without going
into metaphysical discussions. We cannot establish the
vahdity of one particular kind of thinking without dis-
cussing the nature and vahdity of all thinking ; and
historically there has generally been the closest possible
coimection — all the closer in proportion as the thinker
is consistent and thorough-going — between a philo-
sopher's views on Ethics and his theory of the Universe
in general. In the present little work, however, there
will be no room for much discussion of these ultimate
questions. Metaphysical questions will be as far as
possible avoided ; but there will be no attempt to pre-
sent the reader with an Ethic which does not — for
those who think the matter out to the bottom — involve
metaphysical implications or consequences. We shall
be occupied mainly with asking what we actually do
think about this particular department of Reality ;
while, in answer to doubts as to whether our thinking
is valid, we shall have for the most part to be content
with as much Metaphysic as is imphed in pointing out


that there is no more reason for doubting the truth or
vaUdity of our thought about right and \vrong than for
doubting the validity of any other department of our
knowledge. For more detailed discussion of such ulti-
mate doubts the reader must be referred to works
expHcitly deahng with Logic and Metaphysic.

In saying that Ethics is connected in the closest pos-
sible way ■with Metaphysic, we have implied in efEect
that it is not unconnected with Theology ; for Theology
is, from the scientific point of view, only another name
for Metaphysic or one particular branch or aspect of
Metaphysic .1 For the reasons already given, ideas of
right and Avrong cannot but be affected by our concep-
tion of the nature of the Universe in general ; and the
question whether there is a God and what is His nature
is the most fundamental question that we can ask about
the nature of the Universe, What is the exact char-
acter of this connection between the two Sciences,
what is the bearing of Ethics upon Theology and of
Theology upon Ethics, are questions which had best be
considered later on. Meanwhile, I will only say that in
our enquiry as to the nature of right and wrong, we
shall make no theological assumptions. We shall start
simply with this fact of experience — that we do as a
matter of fact give moral judgements, that we call and
think acts right and wrong, and proceed to ask what at
bottom we mean by so doing, and what are the things or
actions to which we apply or ought to apply these terms.
The answer we give to this question may be of great
importance for our general conception of Reality ; but
we shall start v,ith. no assumptions as to that Reality
except \\hat is implied in the ordinary, generally

1 In practice Theology is usually held to include the history of
one or all of the great historical Religions, their doctrines and
their literature, even when the philosophical point of view is not
ignored altogether.


acknowledged facts of human life. Let us proceed,
then, with our enquiry into the ultimate nature of these
famihar distinctions.



We have so far assumed that Ethics is concerned -with
the conception both of the good and of the right without
determining exactly the relation between the two ideas.
We shall perhaps find that ultimately the two notions
involve one another ; but there is this prima facie
difierence between them. The term " good " is apphcable
to many things besides human action ; the term " right "
can only be applied to actions. We can and do pro-
nounce many things to be good besides human acts —
things which may or may not be due to voluntary
action. We do commonly think of right acts as good ;
but v/e may also say that pleasure or knowledge are good,
no matter whether they are thought to be caused by
anyone or not ; only voluntary acts can be called right.
Now the Science of Ethics is concerned — at least prima-
rily — with conduct ; and so far our primary concern is
with the meaning of the right or of what we commonly
call " duty." The question then arises whether this
notion is something distinctive (or sui generis) or whether
it can be resolved into any other conception. Now
that is a question which can only be ascertained by
introspection. We must ask whether we do or do not
possess a distinctive idea of duty which is irresolvable
into anything more ultimate. I beheve that we do find
in our minds such a distinct conception. This is at
bottom the meanmg of Kant's famous assertion that
Duty is a Categorical Imperative,^ whatever may be

^ A Categorical Imperative is opposed by Kant to a Hypothetical
Imperative. Ey a Hypothetical Imperative he meaus a command


thought of some of the doctrines which were associated
with that formula in the mind of the author. We may
identify the word Duty with " the right " or " the
reasonable " or " the conduct that is categorically com-
manded," or the like, but such expressions are mere
synonyms, not definitions. They all express the same
fundamental notion. If " right " and " wrong " are
ultimate notions, they cannot be defined in terms which
do not imply them, any more than such terms as
"being," "equal," "greater," "space," "cause,"
" quality," " quantity." " I am aAvare," says Henry
Sidgwick, " that some persons will be disposed to answer
all the preceding argument [as to the nature of ethical
judgements] by a simple denial that they can find in
their consciousness any such unconditional or cate-
gorical imperative as I have been trying to exhibit.
If that is really the filnal result of self-examination in
any case, there is no more to be said. I, at least, do
not know how to impart that idea of moral obhgation
to anyone who is entirely devoid of it." ^

There arises the further cpestion whether this idea is
intelligible by itself, or whether it does not involve the
further notion of good. This will depend upon the
answer ^\•e give to the question how Me ascertain what
particular actions are right — whether particular acts can
be seen to be right apart altogether from their conse-
quences, or whether the only acts which v e can regard

to do a certain act on a condition, i.e. as a means to some end : " do
this if you desire happiness," or "if you want to be perfect," or
" if you want to s^o to Heaven." If I do not happen to desire the
end, there is for me no obligation to adopt the means. The use
of the term " Catefjorical Imperative" does not (as will be seen
from what follows in the text) necessarily imply that the act is
not done for the sake of a further end (though Kant himself at times
assumes that such is the case^ but it does imply that the end to
which the act is a means is one which all rational beings as such
are bound to pursue.

1 The Methods of Ethic % 6th ed., p. 35.


as right are acts which conduce to the good. To hold
this last view does not at all involve giving up the dis-
tinctive or sui generis character of the idea of right or
duty. For both notions reaUy involve the fundamental
conception of an " ought." If we accept this view, we
shaU say that the notion of good is the notion of some-
thing which ought to be or which possesses intrinsic
value ; the notion " right " will then imply a voluntary
act which ought to be done as a means to this ultimate
good, whatever that may be. The two terms will be
correlative terms which mutually imply one another
(just as the convex impHes the concave, or as the term
" father " is only mteUigible if we know the meaning of
" son ") : right acts vdU then mean acts which are means
to the good ; ^ the good wiU mean an end which ought
to be reahzed, and which every right voluntary action
tends to reahze. We may postpone for the present the
question whether these two terms do stand in this rela-
tion to one another, and concern ourselves only with
the more fundamental question whether the idea of
" rightness " impHed in both terms is a vaUd one.^

Now when we are concerned vnth. the existence or the
validity of some ultimate concept or (as it is sometimes
called) " category " of human thought, the only argu-
ment that can be used is to appeal to one's own actual
consciousness, and to the consciousness of other people
so far as that is revealed to us by their words or acts.
I can therefore only appeal to a reader who is doubtful
on this point to look into his o^v^l consciousness, and
ask himself whether he does not as confidently pro-

1 It will still be possible from this point of view that some acts
may have a value in themselves and so be part of the good.

^ There are, as will be seen below, some thinkers who do not
conceive of the relation between "right" and "good" in this
way : a few of them would say that nothing can properly be called
good but a good act. Kant, however, did not hold this view,
though it is frequently attributed to him.


nounce (say) such and such an act of benevolence to
be right, or such and such an act of cruelty to be ■wTong,
as he pronounces that nothing can happen ^\ithout a
cause or that there is such a thing as quantity, that
two and two make four or that two straight lines
cannot enclose a space. We are not now concerned
with the question how or on what grounds we know
which particular acts are right or which particular acts
we judge to be right ; the only question is a\ hether we
do not pronounce, whether we cannot help thinking,
some acts to be right, and attach a meaning to the
judgi'ment. If we do, we have the only proof that can
be given either of the existence of the concept or of its
valicUty. We can no more 'prove the existence of the
validity of the idea of Duty to anyone who denies it
than we can prove the existence of quantity to anyone
who declares that the ^\■ord is to him a word ^\"ithout
meaning or the name merely of a delusion which most
people entertain. The most that can be done is to
examine some of the attempts which have been made
to explain away this ultimate conception. Some of
these attempts will be best dealt with in the next chapter
upon the Moral Consciousness : in the present chapter
I shall confine myself to the attempts which have been
made to identify the conception of the good with that
of the pleasant.

From the earUest dawn of serious reflection there
have been persons who have maintained that pleasure
is the only good. That was the position of the very
early Cyrenaic philosophers and of the later Epicureans,
of Hobbes m the seventeenth century, of Bentham and
his followers at the begmning of the nineteenth. This
position is usually called Hedonism or (since the rise of
the Benthamite school) Utilitarianism. It is important
to notice that not every kind of Utilitarianism denies
the validity and the distinctive meanmg of the idea of


Duty. It may be held that there is a real meaning in
the term " duty," but that we find out what our duty
is by asking which acts will produce most pleasure —
it may be our own pleasure (egoistic Hedonism) or it
may be that of Society m general (Universahstic
Hedonism). Indeed, anyone who attaches any real
meaning to the doctrine " pleasure is good " really
implies that the term " good " does mean something
besides " pleasant," though in point of fact nothing is
ultimately ^ good but pleasure : otherwise his statement
would be a mere tautology : he would be saying merely
"pleasure is pleasant." For the moment we are con-
cerned merely with the view which absolutely identifies
the good and the pleasant, which treats good and pleasant
as simply two alternative names for the same idea.

The attempt is frequently made to support this view
by a particular psychological theory that we do and
can desire nothing but pleasure. That doctrine was
maintained by Bentham and (with less consistency) by
his disciple John Stuart ]\Iill. In the popular mind
Bentham's name is generally associated with the famous
phrase " the greatest happiness of the greatest number."
It is less generally known that Bentham held it to be
a psychological impossibility for anyone to desire the
greatest happiness of the greatest number except as a
means to his ovm. happiness, happiness being assumed
to be sjTionymous with pleasure. One's omii maximum
pleasure is the only possible object of human desire,
and consequently the only possible aim of human
action. When Bentham declared that the proper aim

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