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obviously be included reasons. A reason may be described as
any motive which involves an essentially direct appeal to
intelligence. When a particular consideration influences the
intellect indirectly through feeling or will it is so far forth a
non-rationa) cause of belief. But as the same object may
move the intellect both directly and indirectly, it is sometimes
difficult to determine whether a particular motive is to be


See Olle Laprune's able treatment of this subject, De la
Certitude Morale, pp. gi — 117.


classed as a reason or as a cause, or as both reason and cause
of belief.i^ Reasons which are exphcitly reahzed in conscious-
ness, if sufficient to necessitate assent, result in knowledge,
not mere belief. The most extensive and iuiportant class of
our convictions, as we have already observed, are probably
those inferences which are drawai from premises abundantly
sufficient in themselves to warrant the conclusion but not
formally realized in consciousness. It is the intellectual
power of forming such conclusions easily, rapidly, and
surely, which Newman termed the Illative facility or the
Illative sense. And however this intellectual activity be
best characterized, that it has played an immense part in
the building up of our entire system of beliefs, he demon-
strated beyond dispute.^* Special aptitude for rapid inferences
form su( h evidence, particularly in regard to the effect
upon others of our words and actions, is often called tact. In
addition to the intellectual element of quick appreciation,
this term also implies the faculty of prompt and appropriate
responsive action ; for, fineness of touch refers not only to
the discriminate capacity of the sense, but to its delicate
efficiency in modifying the materials handled. Where the

^2 The distinction between reasons and causes of belief is brought
out with admirable clearness in Mr. Balfour's Foundations of Belief :
" To say that I believe a statement because I have been taught it,
or because my father believed it before me, or because everybody
in the village believes it, is to announce what everyday experience
informs us is a quite adequate cause of belief — it is not, however,
per se, to give a reason for a belief at all. But such statements can
be turned at once into reasons by no process m.ore elaborate than
that of explicitly recognizing that my teachers, my family, or my
neighbours, are truthful persons, happy in the possession of adequate
means of information — propositions which in their turn of course
require argumentative support. Such a procedure may, I need
hardly say, be quite legitimate ; and reasons of this kind are
probably the principal ground on which in mature life we accept
the great mass of our subordinate scientific and historical con-
victions." (p. 220.) It is worthy of note here that in the justilication
of our beliefs, when we get back to first principles, the reason and
cause coalesce. Thus, the ultimate reason for the acceptance of
mathematical axioms is that they are truths which revealing them-
selves to the intellect by their own evidence inevitably cause or
command assv^nt.

^■* See especially chapters viii., ix. of the Grammar of Assent.
The value of that contribution to Philosophy is best estimated by
the prominence in all subsequent apologetic literature of the
argument which justifies our religious beliefs by showing that our
most assured practical and "scientific" convictions are based on
intellectual data and processes of precisely the same kind.


evidence is not rigorously conclusive it still may render a
particular alternative probable ; and here either intellect or
uill may be the determinant of the resulting belief. Other
things equal, the force of our conviction tends to be in pro-
portion to the weight of the evidence. Frequent repetition
of contiguous experiences generates an expectation that the
one will be in future followed by the other, and superior
vividness of an idea often produces a belief in its objective
reality. Nevertheless we sometimes disbelieve in those phan-
tasms which are most vivid, and contrariwise are convinced
of the objective truth of faint ones.

(2) Emotional sources of belief cannot be completely
separated from those described as Intellectual, since most
emotions are based on intellectual representations. Still,
there is a sufficiently well marked distinction for the purposes
of our classification. Bound up with the social instinct, there
is an innate impulse to trust human testimony. Children are
proverbially credulous, and it is only a sad experience which
unwillingly forces us to be chary of putting too great faith in
our neighbour's word. Again, all emotions — especially those
of hope and fear — which have the power of arousing in us a
hvely picture of any event, thereby tend to create a belief in
its occurrence. Applied to our own actions this law is
expressed in the axiom that " Beliefs tend to realize them-
selves." On the other hand, sorrow, melancholy, and those
feelings which depress psychical life produce despair and
disbelief in the wished-for good, or a hopeless conviction of
the coming ill.

(3) Volitional Element. — The effect of the Will on belief
has always been recognized :

The wish was father, Harry, to that thought,

is but the particular application of an adage far older than
Shakespeare. The emphasis laid on the merit of Belief by
all Christian teachers from St. Paul downwards, impHes that
assent is largely under the control of the Will. The forces
modifying belief which have their root in the appetitive side
of our nature may be classed as, (a) natural or indehberate,
and {h) volitional or deliberate. As regards {a), we readily
believe what we desire, unless the wish be intense, when our
anxiety makes us over-exacting as regards the evidence either
for or against our hopes. We are easily convinced that our
ideal heroes possess every virtue. We have, partly by
character, partly by education and habit, become possessed
of a number of cherished fancies on various subjects. What-
ever conflicts with these, though the evidence in its favour
be strong, we are impelled to distrust : what harmonizes


with them, however improbable, we readily admit. We have
called these beliefs indeliberate, inasmuch as they come into
play without any positive effort on our part, but of course
they may have serious responsibilities attached ; and when in
certain subjects reason declares that our beliefs or disbeliefs
have been misplaced, we may be under a weighty obligation
to assume the unpleasant task of uprooting the prejudice.
(b) Belief, as we have seen, is often under the influence of
Free-will in the exercise of judgment. A change in our
convictions cannot of course be at once effected by a single
volition. But by deliberately fixing our attention on the
arguments favourable to one side of a question and averting
it from those on the other, we may in time come to adhere to
what we at first discredited, or what is in se least probable.

(C) Effects. — The effects of Belief are frequently, though
not always, manifested in movement. Readiness to act is a
common sign of conviction, and this is probably the source
of Dr. Bain's error on the subject. Nevertheless, from many
of our beliefs, it requires a very forced and artificial inter-
pretation of consciousness to elicit any reference at all to
action. Thus my belief that William the Conqueror invaded
England a.d. 1066, or that there is hydrogen in the sun, or
that I read a play of Shakespeare yesterday, contains no
tendency to action that I can discover. On the other hand,
the acceptance of depressing truths, instead of originating
movement, often results in complete mental and bodily
prostration. Still, in the larger number of cases belief is
followed by action, and of course action must always pre-
suppose belief in the reality of the environment. The active
temperament is usually sanguine. The energetic man is not
given to despair, but easily acquires confidence in new
projects. Acting on mere opinions soon transforms them
into steady convictions, which conversely strengthen the
impulse to activity. " Courage is half the battle," expresses
the psychological truth that confidence in our own prowess
is eminently calculated to express itself in vigorous action.

Conscience. — The Moral Faculty is simpl}^ the
intellect directed towards the moral aspects of
action, and hence styled the Moral or Practical
Reason. It is not a different power from the
Speculative Intellect. The terms Speculative and
Practical qualify merely diverse exertions of the
same faculty. By the former the mind discerns


truth and falsity, by the latter the rightncss and

wron^ness of conduct. An action viewed simply

as a fact is the object of the intellect. The harmony,

however, of such an act with human nature and its

relation to a given end are but special accidental

aspects of the same reality. Consequently, as

St. Thomas argues, there is no reason why the

rational faculty which apprehends the being of an

act cannot consider its htness for an end, its

harmony with nature, or its moral rightness.

Scholastic view of Conscience. — Two elements contained
under the vague modern term Conscience are carefully dis-
tinguished by the sclioolmen as Syiidcrcsis and Cunscicntia.
They attributed both, however, to the same ratio practica.
Synderesis denotes the innate disposition or habit by which we
are enabled rapidly and easily to apprehend the primary
precepts of the Moral Law, when the suitable experience
occurs. Thus the practical maxims that " Right ought to be
done," and that " Ingratitude is wrong," when observation
has enabled us to comprehend the terms, are intuitively
perceived with the same certainty as the speculative axiom
that " Equals to the same are equal to each other," and the
like. Conscicntia is defined as the exercise of the Practical
Intellect in applying the general precept to a particular case.
It is, in fact, the cognitive activity exhibited in the ethical
syllogism by which the moral quality of any act is deter-
mined — e.g. {Major) To relieve parents from suffering is right
(Synderesis). (Minor) This act does so. Ergo. This act is
right (Conscientia). This doctrine affords an easy solution
of conflicting moral judgments. For even if the general
principle is fully grasped, there may be error in its appli-
cation ; as when some barbarous tribes insert as minor in
the above syllogism, " To kill parents in times of famine or
sickness is to relieve them.'' Again, the special aptitude or
disposition by which we are inchned to apprehend general
axioms may be corrupted or perverted by education, tradition,
evil passions, extreme intellectual and moral degradation due
to climatic conditions or to the severity of surroundings, and
the like.

Theories concerning Conscience. — The chief
hypotheses on the subject of moral cognition


advanced during modern times are those of the
Moral Sense, of Associationism, of Evolutionism,
and the doctrine of Moral Reason, which is a
return to the Scholastic view.

Moral Sense doctrine. — The theory of a Moral Sense was
first advocated by Shaftesbury (1671 — 1713), and afterwards
in a more decided form by Hutcheson (1694 — 1747). In this
view, Conscience is conceived as a Sense analogous to that
of taste or hearing. It is described as a special original
aptitude of the mind capable of feeling the moral quality of
actions, just as the tongue discerns the sweetness of sugar.
Its perceptions, like those of our other senses, are accom-
panied with pleasure or pain according to the goodness or
badness of the acts. The peculiar character of its object,
the uniformity throughout the race of its decisions on the
primary principles of morality, the promptness and ease with
which they are formed, and the early age of their appearance,
— all these features point, it is urged, to the original and
native character of the endowment. At times, however,
defenders of the Moral Sense identify it with the instinct of
Benevolence, with our ^Esthetic Sensibility, or even with
the Moral Reason proper.

Hume (171 1 — 1776) verbally adopted the Moral Sense, view,
but resolved that power into two factors, Reason and Sentiment.
Reason, which plays an inferior part, can possess no motive
power, but only assists in ascertaining the useful or harmful
consequences of different acts. The chief element, then, in
Conscience is Sentiment or Feeling, and this has its root in
Sympathy. This latter principle Adam Smith (1723 — 1790)
practically constituted the foundation of ethical distinctions,
and the source of all moral approval or disapproval.

Criticism. — Although the Moral Sense school was right in
denying the associationist analysis of moral intuitions,
their description of Conscience is open to grave objections,
(i) The assumption of an additional new faculty is gratuitous.
The intellect or reason which perceives the self-evident
necessary truth that " Equals added to equals give equals,"
is the same power which cognizes the vaHdity of the self-
evident moral axiom that " We should do as we believe we
ought to be done by." (2) The representation of this special
aptitude as a sense is highly objectionable. A sense is
organic ; it acts instinctively, blindly ; is is essentially irra-
tional. But moral judgments above all others claim to be
the voice of reason, the revelation of the spiritual faculty of


the soul. (3) A sense or instinct is essentially a subjective
property or disposition. Its co^'nitions are relative to the
constitution of the organism. It pretends to no universal
or absolute validity. Its action could conceivably be reversed
by Almighty God. Animals might have been created to
relish salt, dislike sugar, and so on. But moral perceptions
are not acts of this kind ; they, like the fundamental intel-
lectual intuitions, disclose to us necessary, absolute, and
universal truths which hold inviolable for God Himself.

(4) The formal object of a sense is, moreover, always a
concrete individual fact. In relation to this object the sense
operates invariably and infallibly, and it is not capable of
transformation by education ; but the moral relations
expressed in the primary ethical principles do not partake
of such a concrete individualistic character. In addition
Conscience is subject to error and perversion, and it requires
I)roper training to exercise its functions in a perfect manner.

(5) Finally, the authority implied in the decisions of the Moral
Faculty completely separates it from all forms of sensibility.
An ethical sense "might be the root of impulses to certain
kinds of action, but it could neither impose nor disclose

Ethical terms defined.— The confusion between the intel-
lectual, emotional, and appetitive elements involved in the
exercise of the Moral Faculty has been the cause of so much
error that besides criticism it is needful to distinguish these
several factors carefully. Moral Intuition is the percipient
act by which the truth of a self-evident moral principle is
immediately cognized. The name is also apphed to the
discernment of the moral quality of a particular action ;
perhaps this exertion of the Practical Intellect, as well as
moral decisions based on longer processes of reasoning, may
be best designated Moral Judgment. Moral Sentiment is not
an ethical cognition, but ttie attendant emotion— the feehng of
satisfaction or remorse, of approval or disapproval excited by
the consideration of a good or bad action by myself or some-
body else. The term Moral Instinct is employed to denote
a native disposition towards some class of socially useful acts,
e.g., gratitude, generosity, &c. Such natural indehberate
tendencies do certainly exist, but they are not truly moral
any more than the sympathetic impulses of brutes. It is
only when approved by reason and consented to by will that
they become moral in the strict sense of the word. Moral
Habits, that is, dispositions acquired by intelligent free
exercise, are moral in the fullest sense.

Associationist Theory. — The chief attack, however, on the
Mornl Sense doctrine came from the disciples of Hartley and


Bentham. The Sensationist school necessarily adopted
utility as the foundation of morality, and sought to resolve
moral distinctions into feelings of pleasure and pain. Con-
science, it is held, is not a simple original faculty, but a
complex product derived from experience of the agreeable
and disagreeable results of actions. The child is 1. dined up
to obedience, and the idea of external authority is formed
in its mind. Certain acts are associated with punishments,
others with rewards. Affection towards the person of the
superior, social sympathy and reverence for law, as well as
fear of retaliation and enlightened prudence, all gradually
amalgamate to produce that indefinite mysterious feeling,
attached to the acts of the moral faculty. The essential
constituents of conscience are, therefore, the faint traces of
pleasurable and painful consequences which have been
associated in past experience with particular kinds of

Criticism. — The objections to this theory are numerous :
(i) It does not account for the very early age at which moral
judgments are formed, nor for the ease and readiness with
which they are elicited before any proper estimate of the
utility of various classes of acts can be attained. The child
is able, while still very young, to distinguish between 7.7s/ and
unjust punishment, and thus to apply a moral criterion to the
very machinery by which its moral notions are supposed to
be manufactured. (2) The Utilitarian hypothesis again does
not account for the absolute authority attributed to moral
decisions by the fully developed human mind. (3) Nor does
it explain the peculiar sanctity attached to moral precepts.
Mere experiences of utility, mere impulses towards pleasure
or from pain would never generate the axiom. Fiat justitia
mat cccluni. (4) It does not account for the universality of
this reverence in regard to at least some moral distinctions ;
nor for the universality of ethical notions exhibited in terms
to be discovered in every language, and found in the customs,
laws, and religions of all nations. In spite of wide diversities
of opinion as to ichat is right, there is the unanimous con-
^iction that right ought to be done. (5) Again, the notions o'
duty and utility are not merely radically different, but ofter
stand in opposition. If apparent self-sacrifice is seen tc
be designed for gain, its virtue disappears. (6) Logically
followed out, this theory annihilates the chum to authority
of conscience, which prescribes the observance of certain
intrinsic distinctions of human action. (7) As a final proof
of the utter inadequacy of association and personal experi-
ences of pleasure and pain to generate conscience, it may
be noted that since the Evolutionist hypothesis has been


invented, the representatives of Sensisni, almost to a man,
now admit that the tlieory nfaintained so confidently by their
school twenty years ago is completely insufficient.

Origin and Authority of Moral Judgments. — In connection
with the associationist theory it has been maintained that
the character of the moral faculty is in no way aft'ected by its
genesis. Dr. Sidgwick justly holds that the existence, origin,
and validity of moral cognitions are three distinct questions ;
but he errs in teaching that the two last are completely inde-
pendent of each other. He asserts {a) that the validity of
any cognition is not weakened by its late appearance in life ;
{b) that the mere derivation of moral perceptions from
simpler elements cannot render them untrustiijorthy, nor their
innate character establish their infallibility; (t;) that conse-
quently Ethical science is no more concerned with the origin
of Conscience than Geometry with that of Spatial Percep-
tion.i^ This doctrine draws its chief plausibility from an
ambiguity contained in the words "validity" and "trust-
worthiness." These terms as predicated of intellectual
cognition mean that the perception in question agrees with
an objective fact universally admitted. As applied to moral
cognition they mean that the judgments of conscience possess
authority. They signify that these acts (a) reveal to us law of
a transcendent and sacred character, and (/3) thereby impose on
us an obligation to special kinds of action or abstinence,
iy) independent oi pleasurable and painful consequences. Obviously
then : (i) The essence of genuine analogy with mathematical
knowledge is wanting. (2) The vital objection is not to the
■late date assigned to the appearance of moral notions, but to
the materials out of which they are supposed to be manu-
factured. (3) The real question is, whether the supremacy
and holiness claimed for the deliverances of conscience are
justified by genuinely objective moral distinctions, or are
merely illusory products containing only sensational and
emotional elements of a non-moral kind. If the latter alter-
native be true, their pretended sovereignty is obviously but
an illegitimate usurpation. If, as Dr. Martineau puts it, " the
conscience is but the dressed dish of some fine cuisine, if you
can actually exhibit it simmering in the saucepan of pleasure
and pain, the decorous shape into which it sets ere it appears
at table, cannot alter its nature or make it more than its
ingredients." ^^ Similarly, from the opposite standpoint ot"
Physical Ethics, Mr. Sidgwick's view has been attacked on
the ground that the pretensions put forward on behalf ot
conscience are very different from those of the spatial faculty,

1^ Methods, lik. III. c. i. § 4. i*^ Types, Vol. 11. p. 14-


and that the ultimate grounds of MoraHty are disputed, while
those of Mathematics are agreed upon.

Evolutionist Hypothesis. — The Evolutionist doctrine of the
Moral Faculty varies from that just described merely by
enlarging the period during which the pleasurable and painful
consequences of conduct have been at work, so as to include
not the life of the individual only, but also that of the race.
Conscience is a species of instinct analogous to the vctricviiii;
disposition in a well-bred game dog. It embodies the experi-
ences of pleasure and pain felt during the numberless ages of
the gradual evolution of man. These, it is asserted, have
been by degrees organized and accumulated through Natural
Selection, and transmitted by heredity from parent to off-
spring in the form of physiological modifications. The theory
thus claims to reconcile the Moral Sense doctrine with that of
the Benthamite school ; or at all events to combine the
elements of truth supposed to be contained in both. On the
one hand, it recognizes the native or instinctive character ot
moral intuitions and sentiments, whilst on the other it ulti-
mately bases all moral distinctions on the pleasurable and
painful consequences of action, and teaches that Conscience
is a complex product derived from these latter.

Criticism. — As this account of the Moral Faculty forms
part of the general theory of the Origin of Necessary Truth
advocated by Evolutionist Psychology, we refer the reader
back to our discussion of the v/ider subject. Here, however,
we may observe in addition: (i) that the new hypothesis is
exposed to all the most weighty objections advanced against
the old Associationist doctrine, except that based on the
readiness with which moral cognitions are elicited, and the
early age at which they appear ; (2) that moral intuition is
not of the nature of a sensitive instinct, but of an intelligent
apprehension ; (3) finally, that Conscience or ethical notions
are the most unlikely product that can well be conceived to
arise by Natural Selection. Even in tolerably civilized stages
of society, the utility of moral sensibility to the individual in
the stru^'glefor life is very problematical. A fortiori amid the
ijiternecine war and conflict of the supposed pre-human
stage, where, in the words of Hobbes, " fraud and force " are
the "cardinal \irtues," the chances should be enormously
against the development of self-sacrifice.^''

^^ Concerning the antliority left to conscience in this account t)f
hs genesis, Mr. Balfour writes thus ; " Kant, as we all know, compared

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 34 of 63)