Owen A. Hill.

Ethics, general and special online

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Lecturer on Psychology, Natural Theology, Ethics
and Religion, at Fordham University,
New York City, N. Y.

J3eto gotfe



Att rights reserved


Set up and electrotyped. Published, July, 1920


Praepositus Prov. Marylandiae Neo-Eboracensis.

NtljU obatat


Censor Librorum.


Archiepiscopus Neo-Eloracensis.

NEO-EBOBACI, die 15 Aprilis, 1920.



The whole trouble with all Modern Philosophy is rank sub-
jectivism, and subjectivism is, perhaps, most destructive in
the domain of Ethics. Protestantism and Modern Philosophy
grow on the same tree, and the root of the tree is subjectivism.
This fact accounts for all the atheism, all the materialism, all
the socialism in the world. It is to blame for all the irreli-
gion, all the injustice, all the tyranny now afflicting large and
small nations; and the World War did not settle matters,
the Peace Conference, in spite of all its good intentions, prac-
tically left things where it found them. Evils persevere as
long as their causes; and till men think right, till Modern
Philosophy is killed from men's minds, till Scholastic Phi-
losophy gets everywhere the hearing it deserves, these evils,
far from being eliminated, will prosper, grow and multiply.
No body of men can regulate mankind, unless mankind itself
is amenable to direction, .unless mankind entertains correct
notions regarding God, the Soul, and the nature of author-
ity. Laws are no better than the men who make them, and
laws are little worth, unless subjects are minded to see and
obey divinity in them. It is awfully hard, in fact it is im-
possible, to persuade anybody to think that any single man
or any collection of men, whether a majority or a minority,
possess independent right over the free wills of other men,
and are empowered to make and execute laws on their own
initiative. God alone holds that supreme prerogative; and
this fact is clear proof not only that all authority is imme-
diately from God, but also that all authority passes imme-
diately from God to ruler, without effective interference with
authority itself on the part of the people. God is immediate
maker of the Natural Law, He is mediate maker of all civil
law; and the presence of God in civil law makes civil law a
sacred obligation. Unjust law is no law at all, because God

has no part in its making. Unjust law has all the force men




can give it. It has physical force in its favor, because men
can contribute that; and physical force never binds men's
free wills. Unjust law has no moral force, the kind that God
gives; and free wills are servants to moral force alone. All
the moral force in civil law comes from God, men are able
to back it up with physical force; but moral force, because
it touches free wills, is beyond the jurisdiction of mere men,
and necessarily leans for its validity on God alone.

Consent of the governed is one thing before the establish-
ment of government, it is an entirely different thing after
government is once established. Physical freedom is man's
birthright, and remains intact before and after the establish-
ment of government. Civil law is made by the state, and
before government is constituted there is no state, and there-
fore no adequate human lawmaker. Before government be-
comes a fact, natural law is the one restraint on moral free-
dom ; and natural law wants a multitude without government
to form a government at its earliest convenience. A people,
therefore, is not morally free to live with or without govern-
ment. Nature wants men to live in a state, under law and
authority; and nature's wishes are what God wants, nature's
wishes are the Natural Law.

A government de jure and de facto is, of course, better
than a government merely de facto; but when a government
de jure is impossible without continuous strife and universal
bloodshed, a government de facto is better than no govern-
ment at all. Even rights must be prosecuted with prudence,
and in case of such a government de facto, right must await
a more favorable opportunity to assert itself, it must not work
with headlong rashness to its own harm and the destruction
of order.

In common sense and the natural law legitimate conquest
is as just and secure a title to authority as inheritance or
suffrage or purchase ; and in the words of Suarez nearly every
government in modern times traces its origin to right of con-
quest. This is far from meaning that modern states are built
on physical force for single title. They are built immediately
on physical force, mediately on moral right. Physical force
when employed to pursue a right has all the sacredness of


moral right itself. To take a familiar and up-to-date instance,
the Allies had a perfect moral right to impose on Germany
and Austria all the terms of the armistice. Whatever terms
the Allies exacted from the defeated Germans they exacted
by force; but this force was backed up by clear moral right,
the indisputable right nations have to defend themselves
against an open, bold and aggressive oppressor, to punish his
crime with becoming penalties, and to make it effectively and
forever impossible for him to repeat his dastardly act. When
criminals are captured and convicted, they are not straight-
way liberated. They are fined light or heavy sums, they are
imprisoned for short or long terms; and if the criminal hap-
pens to be a murderer, reason quite approves of his utter de-
struction. Conquest, of course, can be illegitimate or legiti-
mate. Illegitimate conquest is no valid title. Illegitimate
conquest, like everything else illegitimate, is of no value in
the court of morality.

A government or State always implies a body of laws, or
a constitution; and, prior to the establishment of a govern-
ment, the people enjoy full moral freedom to select some set
form of government and appoint a ruler. Moral freedom is
removed by law, law is the denial of moral freedom, because
law means obligation, and obligation means moral necessity,
the diametrical opposite of moral freedom.

Self-determination implies full moral freedom to choose a
form of government and select a ruler. Where no government
exists, no civil law exists, no constitution exists, and this right
to self-determination is sacred; where government is already
established, civil law exists, a constitution or fixed body of
civil laws, exists; and the principle of self-determination is
all wrong. Correct Ethics recognizes no such independent
right in ruler or subjects. Law restricts moral freedom, and
the constitution is law. The constitution stands for the Royal
Compact championed by Suarez. Neither ruler nor people
must override the constitution. This constitution embodies
the respective rights and privileges of ruler and subjects, and
defines the method of procedure to be followed in case of a
dispute between ruler and subjects. As long as the ruler
keeps within the terms of the constitution, his right to author-


ity is beyond question, and subjects by themselves are not at
liberty to change the form of government or curtail the ruler's
prerogatives. The ruler can at intervals make concessions to
his subjects, subjects can at intervals do the same favor to
their ruler; but every such transaction must be mutual and
agreeable to both parties. The ruler can voluntarily abdicate
or forfeit his authority by abuse of his prerogative; and in
either case, unless succession is otherwise settled by the con-
stitution, the multitude reverts to its original condition of
no government, and the people have full moral freedom to
select a form of government and choose a ruler. In the prose-
cution of an unjust war the ruler can lose his authority by
legitimate conquest ; and in this case ruler and subjects pass
under the authority of the conqueror. In pursuance of this
truth the Allies at the Peace Conference imposed a form of
government on Germany and Austria, allowing them a small
measure of liberty in their selection of rulers, disarmed them,
taxed them, and in every way treated them as subject peoples.
The small states previously belonging to Germany and Aus-
tria got from the Allies, for purposes of peace, the right to
self-determination, and in granting this favor the Allies as
victors were clearly within their rights.




THESIS I. Ever}' agent works unto an end. This end is truly a
cause. The will in all its deliberate movements has some
definite last end, whether strictly or relatively such Pages 7-18

THESIS II. Man of his very nature desires complete happiness.
Complete happiness is man's absolutely last end subjectively
taken. This natural desire must be possible of fulfilment.
No created good can secure to man complete happiness.
The possession of God is alone complete happiness, and God
is man's absolutely last end objectively taken . . Pages 18-28

THESIS III. Man's destiny in this life, his supremest happiness
on earth, consists in drawing closer and closer to his last
end by the establishment of moral rectitude in his actions.
Between good and bad in the moral order, between right
and wrong, an essential, intrinsic difference exists. The
immediate measure of moral rectitude is the objective order
of things as understood by the intellect ; the mediate measure
is God's wisdom and goodness Pages 28-41

THESIS IV. A Natural Law, unchangeable, universal, eternal,
has place in man ; its complete and full sanction is reserved
for the next life; and eternal punishment is not opposed to
God's goodness. This Natural Law is the foundation and
corner-stone of all Positive Law Pages 41-70

THESIS V. The five causes of morality, final, material, formal,
model and efficient. Generic and specific morality. Ob-
jective and subjective morality. Good, bad and indifferent
acts. Morality's subjective measure is synderesis and con-
science. Morality's efficient case is intellect and will. Appe-




tite, the passions, and will. Morality's root is freedom- of
will. Voluntary and involuntary acts. End and intention.
Morality's obstacles, ignorance and error affect the intellect ;
the passions, notably fear, affect the will; violence affects
executive not appetitive faculties, ordered not elicited
acts Pages 70-92

THESIS VI. A human act gets its specific morality from the ob-
ject of the act, from the agent's end or purpose, and from
circumstances affecting both Pages 92-101

THESIS VII. Probabilism is a safe and correct system in mat-
ters of conscience Pages 101-110

THESIS VIII. Virtues and Vices Pages 110-122

THESIS IX. Character and Habits Pages 122-127

THESIS X. Rights and Duties Pages 127-137

THESIS XI. Contracts Pages 137-144

THESIS XII. Interest Pages 144-149

THESIS XIII. Merit and Demerit Pages 149-152

THESIS XIV. Utilitarianism is wrong, dangerous and ab-
surd Pages 152-170

THESIS XV. Kant's autonomy of reason is wrong . Pages 170-175



INTRODUCTION Pages 175-177

THESIS I. Religion is man's first duty, a matter of essential
necessity to the individual and to the state. Worship, in-
terior and exterior, public and private, is God's due. Man's
duty towards revelation is to accept it, when known as such ;
to diligently seek and find it, when hidden, and when he has
reason to suppose that it exists. Toleration in matter of
dogma is absurd Pages 177-201


THESIS II. Suicide is a sin against nature. Death inflicted in
self-defense is under certain conditions justifiable. Private
duels are highly absurd and contrary to the Law of
Nature Pages 201-225

THESIS III. A lie is always and of its very nature wrong. To
safeguard a proportionate right the use of a broad mental
reservation is allowed Pages 225-241

THESIS IV. Man's right to ownership, whether temporary or
lasting, is derived to him not from any formal compact
nor from any civil law, but from nature . . Pages 241-260

THESIS V. Socialism is false in its principles, morally impos-
sible in itself, and quite absurd Pages 260-280

THESIS VI. The right remedy for labor troubles is union be-
tween employers and workmen, based on inequality; con-
sulting the interests of both in such a way, that they
enjoy life and its comforts along with freedom and
peace Pages 280-289

THESIS VII. Marriage is honorable and in harmony with man's

dignity Pages 289-300

THESIS VIII. Celibacy, when love of virtue is its motive, is

more excellent than marriage . . . . . Pages 300-311

THESIS IX. Polygamy, though not against strict Natural Law,

little accords with it ........ Pages 311-318

THESIS X. Incomplete divorce, or separation without any at-
tempt to contract a new marriage, is sometimes allowable.
Complete divorce, or separation affecting the marriage tie,
though not evidently opposed to strict Natural Law in
every conceivable case, is nevertheless out of harmony with
that secondary Law of Nature, which counsels the
proper Pages 318-342

THESIS XI. Education of children belongs to parents first;

to State, last Pages 342-358

THESIS XII. Man is by very nature a social being Pages 358-366

THESIS XIII. A multitude and authority, or subjects and a
ruler, are elements essential to civil society or the
state Pages 366-371



THESIS XIV. Authority proceeds immediately from God. In
the nature of things and ordinarily authority is not con-
ferred on the people. Ordinarily and in the nature of
things the consent of the people fixes or determines the
person in whom authority resides. It may be implied or
expressed; immediate or gradual; and cannot always be
withheld Pages 371-388

THESIS XV. Woman suffrage, though legitimate in exceptional

eases, is fraught with dangers Pages 388-398

THESIS XVI. The State enjoys full Legislative Executive and
Judicial rights, the prerogative of Eminent Domain, and the
War-Power Pages 398-404




A WORD about the importance of our subject. This work
is intended to throw some additional light on the topic of
morality. For Ethics is our theme, and Ethics is the science
of morality. And if any detail of thought has a vital bear-
ing on man's destiny, if any branch of study helps shape his
life, that detail of thought is suggested by Ethics, morality
is that study. Ethics is the science of putting order in man's
free acts; and, when you reflect that all sin, and much trouble,
and hell itself are only varying phases of disorder, it must
be evident that this science, theoretically mastered and sys-
tematically reduced to practice, could effect a revolution in
the world. And the revolutionists would be hailed as the
Emancipators of mankind. They would go down in history,
and they do go down in history as the supremest benefactors
of our race.

Witness the instance of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Even His bitterest enemies, even men who deny Him every
other vestige of divinity, acknowledge that the world was
made better by His presence among men, and attribute to
His maxims and example an abiding influence for good. He
was a teacher of Ethics for whom the world waited with long-
ing for full four thousand years. He was a teacher of Ethics,
whose like the world of to-day misses exceedingly. The wis-
dom of His utterances even from a purely human standpoint,
without regard at all to the spirit of faith and grace's en-
vironment, in which they ought to be accepted, is as much
a subject of concern to the learned of to-day as it was in His

2 /.': \ t \ GENERAL ETHICS

own lifetime to the doctors in the temple, to the Scribes and
the Pharisees deeply read in the Law. The wisdom of His
utterances extorts praise from unbelievers, and compels the
attention of the universe. Men who will not worship Him
as God are unable, when face to face with His heavenly doc-
trine and precepts, to withhold the homage due superhuman
intelligence. I insist upon this point as a conclusive proof
of the deep importance attaching to Ethics, because Christ's
ethical teaching is the only claim Christ has on the reverence
and respect of men completely abandoned by faith, and not
wholly bereft of reason. He has other and far more cogent
claims on our homage; but we, as well as strangers to faith,
can learn with profit to appreciate the human side of the
God-man's character. And Christ, apart from His tran-
scending dignity as God, ranks first among the most consum-
mate legislators the world ever entertained, and merits as
such unstinted praise from all mankind, from believer and
unbeliever alike. He owes the homage wrung from unwilling
unbelievers not to the influence of grace, nor yet to the
miracles of wonder He wrought in favor of suffering and
sickness, but mainly to the fact that His discourses breathe
an unerring love for rectitude; and half His lifework was
the ethical instruction of humanity.

Teachers, who appeal to the curious in human nature, will
hold the ears of men until supplanted by other teachers with
more startling novelties for wares; but teachers of morality
will never be without an audience, though they deal out
truths as old as time. Such is the passion of mankind for
what tends to put men in improved relations with themselves,
with one another, and with God, that, as long as a human
heart beats, due importance will be attached to problems of
morality, and propounders of morality will have their uses
in the universe. We men are eminently practical beings, and
the almost total absence of pure theory, and of the strictly
academic discussions common in Logic and Metaphysics from
Moral Philosophy, makes this branch of the science more in-
teresting and absorbing. After all, we were equipped with
minds only to borrow light from them for the operations of
the will, the head is servant to the heart, and life takes all its
true color from action, not from knowledge. To this simple


fact must be ascribed the undoubted superiority of Ethics in
the kingdom of study. Then, too, we are born with an in-
alienable and harassing love of happiness. We want to be
happy here, we want to be happy hereafter, and the wish
lives of our very life. Every glance of the eye aims at the
discovery of happiness' hiding place, every throb of the heart
is an invitation to happiness' pity, and every single thought
of saint and sinner alike has happiness for mainspring and
motive. There is no help for it ; we were made that way ; and,
to lose the inclination, we should have to get outside of our-
selves. Moral Philosophy professes to mark out the lines
along which we can without loss pursue this fleeting phantom
of happiness, and at the same time makes distinct record
of blunders to which the history of our race bears witness.
It puts on a solid basis principles, that, if practically ful-
filled, can have but one result, the inward approbation of a
conscience, working on and up to the right. And when con-
science approves, remorse is still, this life knows no truer
happiness than peace, and thorough blamelessness is bonded
promise of eternal blessedness.

Moral Philosophy puts us right with the world of being in
which we move, and does the thing in the neatest way con-
ceivable. It first discusses general notions of morality; mo-
tives for action, standards of measure, methods and means of
discovery, palliative circumstances, characteristics, responsi-
bility, merit and blame, helps and hindrances, law. These
abstract questions pave the way for more tangible and posi-
tive considerations. They partake of the nature of principles,
that run through the second or practical part of Moral Phil-
osophy. A man's duties and a man's rights are definitely
settled in this second part, by applying to the different emer-
gencies, in which a man may find himself, all the truths ac-
cumulated and made good in the first part. Thus, the first
condition that confronts us, when brought into being, is that of
dependence on God. Moral Philosophy takes hold of this con-
dition, examines it in every detail, and sternly decrees the
rigid demands of reason with regard to religion, worship and
revelation. It then lays down rules for man's behavior to-
wards himself and towards his fellow-men, taken as indi-
viduals. These rules are far reaching, and define exactly his


obligations with respect to his body, his soul, his life, and his
neighbor's body, soul and life. They determine the nature
and fairness of private property, and establish the sanctity of
contracts. Society in all its ramifications is the next study.
The family and the State are the topics ; and each meets with
the fullest treatment. The family presents such vital ques-
tions as marriage, its oneness, its perpetuity, its obligations, its
relations with the civil power, parents and children. The
State leads to an analysis of men's inclination to band them-
selves together, of the purpose that actuates the inclination, of
the elements entering into society 's structure ; of authority, its
origin, its phases, its constituents, and of the mutual relations
between ruler and subjects. Tongiorgi offers this other di-
vision of Ethics from its causes: 1, Final cause, or man's
last end; 2, Material cause, or man's moral acts; 3, Formal
cause, or good and evil; 4, Model cause, or Natural Law; 5,
Efficient cause, mind, will and habits, behavior.

These, therefore, are some of the topics destined to occupy
our attention. The field is so vast that we can hope to do any-
thing like justice to only the leading points; and it shall be
my endeavor, while making my treatment of the matter as
thorough as possible, to omit nothing of primary importance.
While devoting no little time to the forward part of Moral,
or General Ethics, we intend to pay more special attention
to the after-part, designated by some authors as Natural Eight.
The spirit of Catholicity will of course pervade our whole
work. We shall never forget that we are men of faith, with
the light of the Scriptures as interpreted by the Church for
guide, with the traditions of two thousand years at our serv-
ice, and the example of an army of saints before our eyes.
We enter not into this enquiry in the disposition of Rational-
ists, who exercise to-day so wide an influence in the world
of thought, outside the one true Church. We hesitate to re-
move God's messages to men from the field of morality. We
refuse to regard man as an absolute, self-sufficient being, in-
dependent of his surroundings, accountable to no superior for
his conduct, his own guide, his own reward, his own punish-
ment. We maintain, on the contrary, that every instant of
his life is beset with well defined relations; that he is poor,
and weak, and erring ; that he is affected by his environment,


strictly responsible before an all-wise, an all-holy, and an all-
powerful God for his thoughts, his words and his acts; and
a candidate for the Heaven or hell of Scripture, for the place
of delight with golden streets, or the prison house of fire
that knows no surcease of pain. Reason with us is quite as
important a factor in morality as it is with the Rationalists.
"We hold it in even higher esteem than they. We follow as
far as it leads, accept all its legitimate conclusions, and allow
neither prejudice nor passion to meddle with our loyalty to
its counsels. We take no half -measures, we journey not to
a certain point and then stop short. But, when reason makes
clear the undoubted existence of a teaching Church, the real-
ity of a code of law harassing in the extreme to human na-
ture, we adopt its teaching with all the responsibilities and
all the sacrifices implied. When reason proclaims in a loud
voice its own proneness to confound the false with the true,
its inability to cope with problems, capable of taxing even
angelic minds, we take reason's word for the statement, and
accept on God's authority what reason cannot even under-
stand. Reason without a guide is not sufficient in the deli-
cate task of arranging the moral details of a man 's life. Rea-
son was made to adopt the truth, not to fathom all truth ; and

Online LibraryOwen A. HillEthics, general and special → online text (page 1 of 37)