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them to be intrinsically higher. It was just in this judge-
ment that the one kind of desire, or the action prompted
by such desire, was higher than another that the moral
Reason asserted itself. It must not be supposed that
the ideal of human conduct is conduct iminfluenced by
desire or emotion. The ideal function of Reason is not
to suppress or extinguish the desires, but to control
them — to choose between the higher and the lower
impulse and to reinforce the higher. The ideal is no
doubt that the desire to do what Reason pronounces to



THE MORAL CONSCIOUSNESS 43

be right should be paramount, where desires confliet ; but
the greater part of the acts of most good men -will no
doubt be governed by other impulses — habit, custom,
authority, emotion — with a merely latent consciousness
that the impulses are good and that there is no need to
check or inhibit their operation.

(c) It is quite true that in many cases our moral
judgements are accompanied by a characteristic emotion,
or, rather, by many different kinds of emotion. In some
cases this emotion is excited directly by the conduct
approved or condemned apart from any reflection upon
its rightness or wrongness ; in others the emotion is
excited solely by the consciousness that the action is
right or wrong. In this last case it is especially clear
that the emotion presupposes the judgement and can-
not possibly explain it — any more than the pleasure
arising from the satisfaction of the desire can explain
the desire.

(d) It has often been supposed by ethical Eationahsts
not merely that ethical judgements are the work of
Reason, but that these judgements can be pronounced
without any knowledge derived from experience. A
purely rational intelligence moving as it were in vacuo,
having no knowledge of human nature {i.e. of anji;hing
in man but his Reason) — of human desires, emotions,
pleasin-es, pains, of the structure of human society and
the tendency of human acts — could produce, as it were,
out of the depths of its own self-consciousness, a de-
tailed code of rules suitable for the guidance of any
and every human society.

The most famous of the writers who exhibit this
tendency is Kant. Kant was no doubt quite right in
calling the moral judgement a " categorical imperative "
— that is, a command the obhgation of which is not
conditional upon any subjective wish or inclination on



44 ETHICS

the part of the individiial whose Reason recognizes the
obligation ; but that doctrine does not carry with it
(as it sometimes supposed it to do) the impUcation that
the details of duty can be discovered without any refer-
ence to experience, or that moral laws must express
themselves in hard-and-fast rules which admit of no
exceptions — rules which prescribe the same kind of
conduct in all possible combinations of circumstances,
and the obHgation of which is quite independent of
consequences not merely to the individual but to society
at large.

The question thus raised is in effect the problem of
the Moral Criterion, and that is a question which we
have not yet considered. So far I have been en-
deavouring to show merely that the judgement " this is
right " is a rational judgement, involving a distinct
category of the human thought as much as the judge-
ment " A is the cause of B " or " the whole is greater
than its part," or " If A is B and E is C, then A is C."
We have not yet discussed what acts in particular
Reason pronounces to be right, or by what sort of
procedure Reason operates in deciding whether an act
is right or wrong. That problem will be the subject of
the next chapter, and the reader will be in a much
better position to judge whether ethical propositions are
rational judgements or a mere formulation of human
emotions or desires when he discovers what are the
sort of propositions for which this rational character is
claimed.



THE MORAL CRITERION 45



CHAPTER IV

THE MORAL CRITERION

We have now reached the question which it is really the
supreme object of Ethics to answer — the question " How
are we to discover what actions in particular are right
or wrong ? " All our previous enquiries may be re-
garded as preliminaries to the treatment of this great
and practically all-important problem. It is of no use
to know generalities about the meaning of right and
wrong unless we can discover some method of discover-
ing what particular actions are right and AVTong ; and
if we can do this, it is probable that our answer to this
question will throw more light than anything else upon
the meaning of right and wrong in general

To this fundamental question there have been two
traditional answers. According to one view we dis-
cover what is right or wrong by an immediate judgement
or " intuition " which tells us that this or that act is
right without any knowledge of its consequences or of
its bearing upon the general well-being either of the
individual or of society. This view is commonly kno\\"n
as Intuitionism. Sometimes it is supposed that the
intuition relates to each particular act in detail ; the
judgement is supposed to be, as it were, an ad hoc judge-
ment ; by others it is supposed that the intuitions relate
to whole classes of action, the rightness or WTongness
of the particular act being deduced from the general
rules, just as a Judge applies a general rule of law to
the decisions of particular cases. According to the
first theory (to which Professor Sidgwick has applied
the name " empirical " or " perceptional " Intuition-
ism), on each occasion on which I have to decide



46 ETHICS

whether to speak the truth or not, an immediate in-
tuition arises in my mind telling me that the lie would
be wrong or (it may be under certain circumstances)
that it would be right. According to the other view
(which Sidgwick has called " Philosophical Intui-
tionism "), I know a priori, and apart from all con-
siderations of social consequences, that all lying is
wrong ; if I see that this particular act falls within the
general category of lying, then I know it would be
wrong to do it. It certainly conduces to clearness to
divide Intuitional systems in this way, but the dis-
tinction is one which is not always made by the intui-
tional writers themselves : many of them adopt one
or the other interpretation of their principle, just as
they find most convenient to meet the controversial
needs of the moment. It should be added that, in
saying that no account is taken of the consequences of
the action, we are putting the system in its extremest
form. Many writers who would on the whole class
themselves under this head — who at all events emphati- •
cally reject the Utihtarian view of the matter — would
admit that to a certain extent and in certain cases
consequences have to be considered. The difficulty of
these less extreme Intuitionists has always been to
explain when consequences are, and when they are not,
to be considered. At all events they would all agree
that in some cases acts are seen to be right or wrong no
matter what their consequences maj'^ be.

According to the other view we judge of the conse-
quences of acts by attending to their consequences
either for the individual or (as is more usually held)
for Society at large ; that act is right which vnU pro-
duce the greatest amount of good on the whole for the
individual or for Society. Such systems are usually
spoken of as Utilitarian ; and it is part of the tradi-
tional Utihtarian creed that this good, which is the



THE MORAL CRITERION 47

ultimate end of all human action, is simply a maximum
of pleasure and a minimum of pain. Utilitarianism is
in general usage understood to include Hedonism — the
doctrine that pleasure is the only good. But it will be
observed at once that there is no necessary connection
between the two elements in the traditional Utihtarian
doctrine. It is quite possible to hold that acts are,
indeed, right or wrong according as they promote either
individual or social well-being, and yet not to hold that
well-being means merely pleasure.

A better classification of ethical systems than that
afforded by the traditional opposition between Intui-
tional and Utilitarian systems would be afforded by
dividing them (with Paulsen) into intuitional or (as
he calls it) " formahstic " and " teleological " systems.
Teleological systems are systems which regard actions
as right or wrong in so far as they tend or do not tend
to the production of a certain end or good, no matter
what be the nature of that good. Teleological systems
will be further classified in two ways : (1) according
as the end which they tend to promote is individual or
universal ; (2) according to the interpretation which is
given to this end. We may have an Egoistic Hedonism
which regards the individual's pleasure as the true end
for each individual, or a UniversaHstic Hedonism which
regards the general pleasure as the end by reference to
which individual acts are to be pronounced right or
wrong. Or, again, it may be held that the true end is
not pleasure but moral well-being, or moral weU-being
+ pleasure, or again intellectual activity ; or the good
may be supposed to consist in all these elements and
others besides — and in each of these cases there will be
a further subdivision according as the well-being of the
individual or of Society is regarded. We thus get the
following classifications of ethical systems according to
the view they take of the ethical criterion. It is of



48 ETHICS

course not the only possible classification ; and if we
looked to the practical tendency or ethical tone of the
systems, it is perhaps not the most important. The
most fundamental distinction from that point of view is
undoubtedly that between hedonistic systems and non-
hedonistic ; but for the particular purpose of the present
discussion this classification will be found useful —



I. Intuitionism. (1) Empirical or Perceptional.
(2) Philosophical.
II. Teleological systems. The good may be interpreted as —

(i.) Pleasure — (a) for theindividual(Egoistic Hedonism).
(b) for all humanity (Universalistic Hedo-
nism or Utilitarianism),
(ii.) Moral Well-being— (a) for the individual (Individ u-

ali>tic Perfectionism).
(b) for humanity (Universalistic
Perfectionism),
(iii.) A total Well-being ^ including Morality, intellectual
and asathetic good, &c., and recognizing a distinc-
tion between higher and lower pleasures.

(a) for the individual (Individualistic Eudaemonism).

(b) for humanity (Ideal Utilitarianism).

Two or three further remarks may be made on this
classification —

(i.) Since almost all non-hedonistic systems regard
Morality as part of the individual's good and the pro-
motion of other people's good as at least an important
part of Morality, the distinction between the indivi-
dualistic and the universalistic variety of these systems
is not so sharply drawn as might be expected. There
are many writers whom it would be difficult to classify
definitely under either head ; some of these {e.g. T. H.
Green) go so far as to maintain that no true good can
be either wholly individual or wholly social. ^

* The Greek would say evSai/xovla.

* On snob a view it is clear that nothing but Morality itself can
possibly be good at all. Such a position is difScult to reconcile



THE MORAL CRITERION 49

(ii.) Since moral well-being is made up of individual
good acts, it is not very easy to distinguish the method
which I have called Individualistic Perfectionism from
purely intuitional systems ; still, in so far as it is
thought that moral action is to be governed by an ideal
of character or life as a whole rather than by individual
and isolated promptings of the moral consciousness in
each particular ease (pro re nata), a system tends to
pass from the intuitional into the teleological class — still
more so when (as with T. H. Green) the moral well-
bemg of society rather than of the individual is made
the criterion.

(iii.) A fourth main division of teleological systems
might be estabhshed for those who hold that intel-
lectual (including aesthetic) well-being or culture by
itself constitutes the end. But this has been seldom
systematically maintained. It might be possible, how-
ever, to regard Nietzsche (in so far as that writer can
be credited with any definite and consistent Ethic) as
representing such a system in its individualistic form
(though his exaltation of individual power or force would
be hard to bring into this scheme), and E. von Hartmann
as representing its universahstic variety. The truth is
that the number of possible views of the end is potenti-
ally unhmited. There is nothing except the obvious
and intrinsic unreasonableness of doing so in some
cases to prevent any single element of conscious life
from being regarded as the only good in human life ;
but the above classification will be found roughl}^ to
correspond with the main divisions of actual opinion.

with the admission, which the same writers invariably make on
other occasions, that the important virtue of Justice consists in
showing a due estimate of the relative importance of one man's
good (whether that can be the man himself, or some one else), and
that of each and every other man. The very possibility of injustice
implies the possibility that A may enjoy a real good which neverthe-
less involves an injury to B, whicli Green's view would make
impossible.

D



50 ETHICS

Let us now examine the arguments commonly ad-
duced in favour of the two sharply-opposed traditional
ways of thinking commonly known as Intuitionism and
UtiHtarianism. We will consider them firstly in their
extremest and most sharply opposed forms.

The Intuitionist asks whether we do not as a matter
of fact decide that acts are right or wrong without any
conscious reflection upon their influence upon so remote
an end as universal well-being. Children and quite
uneducated persons, he will point out, immediately and
(as it were) instinctively condemn lying -without any
reflection, or even any capacity for reflecting, upon the
commercial and social conveniences secured to society
by the habit of truth-speaking. They condemn steaHng,
though they would be quite unable to ^vrite a defence
of private property against a Communist or an Anarchist,
and so on. And these rules of conduct are frequently
recognized and observed by people who seem to trouble
themselves remarkably Uttle in other ways about the
general welfare. It is, moreover, frequently insisted,
though this is not absolutely necessary to Intuitionism
(particularly in its perceptional form), that some or all
of these moral rules admit of no exception, even when
the introduction of exceptions would seem clearly to
produce a balance of pleasure and no compensating
pain. Kant, for instance, wrote a short treatise against
a "supposed right of telUng Hes from benevolent
motives." Moreover, in some cases it is at least plaus-
ible to doubt whether, even as a general rule and in the
long run, some of the rules of the accepted Morahty
could really be defended as conducive to a maximum of
pleasure, so long at least as all pleasure is regarded as
of exactly equal value — the condemnation, for instance,
of suicide and the whole system of rules included in the
interpretation placed by Christian communities upon
the Seventh Commandment. Further, it is contended



THE MORAL CRITERION 51

that the very strongest conviction that we have is the
belief that the moral act in itself, or the character
and general direction of the Will which it represents,
possesses an intrinsic value as distinct from the value
of any further efTect which may as a matter of fact be pro-
duced by the right act. We regard Morahty as an end
in itself, while we treat the pleasure which actually results
from some right acts (some would even say) as not a good
at all, or at all events as a good of very inferior value.

To these arguments the UtiHtarian would reply in
some such way as this —

1. He would freely admit that to a large extent it
is true that we do often assent to certain moral rules
or pronounce judgements upon individual acts without
conscious reflection on the consequences to any one,
still less on the ultimate consequences to social well-
being ; but this, he would contend, is sufficiently
accounted for in some cases by early education and the
accepted code which Society, by example and precept,
reward and punishment, praise and blame, has been
impressing upon our minds all through our lives. In
other cases the evil consequences of an act are so
obvious that practically no reflection is required to
stamp the act as wrong. The good of Society is made
up of lesser goods. When we see that an act produces
pain, we immediately condenm it unless we have any
reason to suspect that the pain will result in an ultimate
increase of pleasure. WTien we see that a child's clothes
have caught fire, we do not need to reflect on any conse-
quences for universal well-being before we make up our
minds that it is a duty to extinguish the flames, even at
the cost of some risk to om-selves. It is clear that the
act will conduce to pleasure and to the avoidance of
pain. We should feel an equally instinctive desire to
kick out of the room a man whom we saw making
incisions in the flesh of a human being if we did not



52 ETHICS

know that he was a Surgeon, and that the making of
incisions %vill tend to save the man's hfe. Were a com-
petent Phj^sician to suggest that the burning of the child's
clothes upon its back would cure it of a fever, every
reasonable person would consider it his duty to recon-
sider his prima facie view of the situation. The Utili-
tarian does not deny that in most cases we act upon
some accepted rule of conduct or upon our own imme-
diate impulse without any elaborate calculation of
social consequences. Nor does he deny the desirabiHty
of the indi^^dual conforming in the vast majority of
cases to the accepted rule, which he will regard as pre-
sumably having its origin m the experience of the race,
or obeying the altruistic impulses which certainly pro-
mote the immediate well-being of one or more indi-
viduals. The question is not so much as to the existence
of intuitions or apparent intuitions about conduct, but
as to the source of their ultimate authority or vaHdity,
and consequently as to their finality. In the vast
majority of cases it is inevitable and desirable that we
should act "without any such elaborate calculation. The
question is how we are to decide the matter when we
begin to doubt whether the accepted rule may not turn
out to be no less mistaken and migroimded than manj^
other rules which were once universally^ accepted, and are
now universally rejected ; or to suspect that the indul-
gence of the first momentary impulse is reaUy injiurious
to the general well-being. The first impulse of any humane
person with a shilHng in his pocket, on seeing a himgry
beggar in the street, is to give him that shilling. If he
put aside all that he knew from experience and the
teaching of Political Economy about the effects of in-
discriminate almsgiving, he would inevitablj^ treat that
impulse as the voice of Conscience. \Mien he takes
into account this knowledge, a reasonable man usually
changes his judgement, and holds that it is his duty to



THE MORAL CRITERION 53

keep the shilling in his pocket. Here, as elsewhere, the
Utilitarian docs not necessarily dispute the existence or
authority of Conscience or refuse to obey its dictates.
He only refuses to regard Conscience as a blind and
unreflecting impulse ; and insists that its verdict must
depend upon a rational regard for the consequences of
actions so far as such consequences can be foreseen.
He finds that so far from Conscience bidding him act
without reflection, it is really Conscience that bids him
stop and think. And when he does so, he finds it im-
possible to regard it as right to bring about what is
not reaUy good ; and if every act ought to reahze some
good, the supreme end of all action must surely be to
reahze the greatest attainable good.

2. The most obvious lines of attack adopted by the
Utilitarian writers is to point to the immense variety of
contradictory and inconsistent rules of conduct wliich
have at difierent times, to different nations or to different
individuals, presented themselves as self -evidently true
and binding. The traditional method of combating
Intuitionism from the time of John Locke to that of
Herbert Spencer has been to present the reader with a
list of cruel and abominable savage customs, ridiculous
superstitions, acts of religious fanaticism and intolerance,
which have all ahke seemed self-evidently good and
right to the peoples or individuals who have practised
them. There is hardly a vice or a crime (according to
our own moral standard) which has not at some time or
other in some circumstances been looked upon as a
moral and reUgious duty. Steahng was accounted \ar-
tuous for the young Spartan and among the Indian
caste of Thugs. In the ancient world Piracy, i.e. robbery
and murder, was a respectable profession. To the
medieval Christian rehgious persecution was the highest
of duties, and so on.

At first sight this line of argument ^\'ill seem to many



54 ETHICS

the most unanswerable. And no doubt if the Intui-
tionist really does maintain that, as a matter of fact,
all human beings have always judged the same things
to be right or wrong, if he even maintains with the
cautious Bishop Butler that " almost any fair man
in almost any circumstance " will know what is the
right thing to do, then the existence of these diverse
and inconsistent moral ideals is sufficient to refute his
contention. We need not look beyond the Old Testa-
ment and Homer to see that moral ideals have not
always been the same ; and even among the most
enlightened and morally developed individuals at the
present day — in the same nation, in the same class, on
the same educational level — there are unquestionably
very considerable differences not merely as to the right
course of action in some particular collocation of cir-
cumstances but even about general questions of ethical
principle. But Intuitionism is not necessarily com-
mitted to the denial of these things. All modem
Intuitionists admit that the moral Consciousness has
grown and developed just as much as the intellectual
side of our consciousness. Everybody will admit that
the difierence between a valid syllogism and a syllogism
with a fallacy in it, between a good argument and a
bad, is something that must be discerned immediately,
intuitively, or not at all. But it does not follow that
all men are equally good arguers or judges of argument.
As a matter of fact, illogical thinkers are more numerous
than logical ones. It is quite possible to maintain that
MoraHty consists in a body of isolated rules or isolated
and disconnected judgements discernible by intuition
without any reference to consequences, although it is
admitted that the knowledge of such truths has been
gradually developed, and that individuals even now
vary indefinitely in their power of discerning them.
Self-evident truths are not truths which are evident



THE MORAL CRITERION 55

to everybody. Few, if any, cultivated Moralists would
explicitly contend that what they regard as self-evident-
moral axioms or self -evidently true judgements in par-
ticular cases have been or are actually assented to by
all human bemgs, although even at the present day
Anti-utilitarian Moralists do show a disposition to
assume a greater identity of moral ideals than actually
exists. One reason for this is that the cases usually
taken as examples of self-evident moral truths are
negative rules. A general agreement that murder,
theft, and cruelty are wrong may exist amidst very great
diversities of view as to the positive ideal of human life.

3. Though a certain number of moral rules will be
generally assented to so long as they are expressed in
vague and general terms, these rules turn out on reflec-
tion to be quite insufficient for the guidance of conduct.
We readily assent to the propositions " I ought to be
benevolent, just, honest," &c., but when we come to
details, we find that the general agreement which is
usually insisted upon by the Intuitionist begins to dis-
appear : nor does the right course of action always seem
obvious even to the individual. When this is the case,
it will commonly be found that men really do appeal to
social consequences. WTien a man begins to dispute or


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