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forbids the adoption of any ethical theory, in which
the conception of validity or moral right, in contrast


L to moral wrong, is either thrust aside, or regarded
as identical with that of happiness or satisfaction
simply. It is the " still small voice " of conscience
and of truth, opposed at once to the bravado of self-
will in the domain of practice, and in that of theory
to the illusions of empiricism.
!^ 4. Conscience according to the foregoing

imperative analysis must be taken to have a twofold function ;

- SutieT' nrs t> ft perceives the moral Tightness or wrongness
of acts proposed for choice, and secondly, it
perceives whether those it judges right, or those it
judges wrong, are actually adopted. The latter
function belongs to it as perception simply, though
in this case it is the self-conscious perception of a
real agent or Subject, and the facts perceived are
the Subject's real actions, contributing to build up
his moral character. The former function is the
function of judging, with which we have just now
been more particularly occupied. When we
combine the second with it, and consider both as
exercised together by a real Subject, we come back
to what we may call Conscience in the concrete, and
can consider its growth and development through
different successive stages, both of individual and of
human history.

But first, what is meant by its Imperative ? Con-
science is a capacity of perceiving and judging, not
prima Jade of commanding anything. It is only
empiricists who expect, or pretend to expect, to
find in conscience a faculty issuing orders to do or
abstain from doing particular acts, as if it were a
voice using a vocabulary of already known signifi-
cance, and who consequently reject it as a reality,
and regard it as a fiction, when no such empirical


orders can be discovered. Now in the first place, B cJJ K vi L
conscience is not a command to act simply. We 7^
cannot avoid actfng ; it is a necessity involved in ^p^ive
our nature as conscious volitional agents. It is in Consc f ence .
guiding choice, by judging volitions, that conscience
operates. This being so, a judgment of conscience,
that any particular choice is right, becomes eo ipso
a command to make that choice, and act in that
particular way, the alternatives being given by
redintegration, not imagined by conscience, and
action by way of choice being a necessity. Con-
science is imperative in no other sense than that
in which desires, motives, reasons, or judgments,
are imperative, which involve a perception of

The characteristic difference, distinguishing the
imperative of conscience from other imperatives,
lies in the nature which is peculiar to the judgments
of conscience, and which gives their imperative a
peculiar kind of efficacy. And this peculiar efficacy
we shall be able to trace, if I mistake not, to two
characteristics of the judgments of conscience, one
psychological, belonging to them as conditionates
of deeply seated tendencies in the neuro-cerebral
system, the other metaphysical, belonging to them
as modes of knowing which have an infinite future
as the object of their anticipation, and also are
attended with peculiar emotional feelings, the
existence of which is not explicable in any other
way than by referring them to conscience as their
source. Remorse and Peace of Mind, in all their
varieties, which may properly be called the Sanc-
tions of the imperative of conscience, are the
feelings intended ; while the fact, that an endless


B CH. K VL' ^turity is laid open, throughout which the conse-
r^" quences of human action may possibly extend,
mvest s these sanctions with an additional weight
dence. ^ meaning, which seems to gain in impressiveness

-Duties. } ie more it is reflected on. It will be seen in the
sequel, how and where, in the development of
conscience, these sanctions of its imperative make
their appearance. The psychological efficacy just
spoken of consists, broadly speaking, in the fact,
which, when once perceived, is also perceived as
a sanction of the imperative of conscience, that
disobedience of itself is deadly. Every act of
disobedience, or even of evasion, is to some extent
a disintegration of the cerebral system of the
Subject, destroying the consensus of its energies, a
disintegration originating in its own action.

When from time to time we look back upon our
own course of conduct through our past life, we see
it as a succession of volitions or acts of choice,
before each of which alternative actions have been
proposed for acceptance, and by each of which one
of those alternatives has been adopted. The
actual consequences and inseparable incidents of
every actual adoption are, or may be, seen as
incorporated with our actual course of life, and
with our powers, habits, and character, as real
beings ; and therefore also each actual adoption
seen as contributing to determine the conditions
under which every succeeding choice between
alternative actions has been and will be proposed
to us. In contrast with these actual consequences
and incidents are seen those which we imagine
would have resulted, both in ourselves and in
extraneous circumstances, if an opposite alterna-


tive had been adopted. In addition to both of B c K v J L
these, we see also the harmony, or the discord,
between every adopted alternative and the judg- Im ^ tivc
ment of Conscience, which approved or disapproved Con8 f ence
it at the time of its adoption. This approval or
disapproval of actions by Conscience we express by
calling the actions right or wrong ; and these
characteristics of actions have been shown to be
something quite different from their conduciveness
or non-conduciveness to any simply desired end, such
as our own Happiness or Welfare, or those of others,
or even the satisfaction of building up our own
Character into conformity with a pre-conceived
and admired Ideal. The appropriateness of the
terms right and ivrong to describe the alternatives
adopted or rejected in conduct seems principally
due to the fact, that we image by a line the course
which the succession of the salient volitional acts
of our life has taken. That course takes its place
in the general panorama of our objective thought,
as a line traced by the conscious Subject in
moving through the world of experience on either
side of him, in which seem to lie the consequences
of those alternatives, once possible, the adoption of
any of which would have been a deflection of the
course actually taken. The line which images this
course is not necessarily a straight one, nor are the
deflections from it, which were once possible,
necessarily wrong or crooked ones. On the
contrary, an imagined straight line is made our
standard or rule, with which we seem to compare,
and by which we seem to judge, the line taken by
our actual course of life, and thus pronounce it,
and every part or action in it, straight or crooked,
right or wrong.


B cS K vi L The ethical question here is, On what principle
T~^ do we draw in imagination the straight line, con-
formity to which we call right, and deviation from
sdence wmcn we ca ll wrong f The result of the analysis of

-Duties. ac t s of choice in the foregoing Section tends plainly
to show, that we form our idea of the standard
straight line, adherence to which is right and
deviation from which is wrong, by reference to that
criterion of an anticipated harmony, by which con-
science judges volitional acts. On this principle,
the actions which Conscience approves or com-
mands we consider right, and the imaginary line
which they would trace, if invariably performed,
we call straight ; those which it disapproves or
forbids we consider wrong, and the deviations
which they initiate or trace, from the straight line
so determined, we call crooked or twisted, literally
" wrung. "

But this is not the view taken by all, or even by
the majority of ethical writers, in this country at
least, with regard to the nature of actions as right
and wrong, or with regard to the principle on which
the imaginary standard straight line of right con-
duct is traced. All Eudsemonists, Prudentialists,
Utilitarians, and Hedonists, both Altruistic and
Egoistic, hold that the Ends aimed at by volitions
determine the Tightness or wrongness of the volitions,
and therefore also of the course of life, as a whole,
which volitions, together with their consequences
and incidents, compose ; and they accordingly con-
struct the imaginary standard line of right by
reference to the ultimate End adopted by the agent.
It is as if they drew an imaginary straight line,
joining the ultimate End of action, imagined in the



future, with the Subject's present position in the
panorama of experience, and made that line their
standard. Acts of choice which tend to the attain-






ment of that End they consider conformable to the Cons f ence
standard line of right conduct ; those which lead in
other directions they consider as deflections from
it, that is, as crooked or wrong. The distinction
between End and Means is thus their cardinal
distinction in judging of right and wrong.

By adopting this principle of judging conduct
they involve themselves theoretically in a formidable
dilemma. The End or Ends to which they point as
the ultimate determinants of right conduct must
either be known to be the true Ends a priori, or by
intuition, as it is called, a kind of knowledge of
which Omniscience alone could be capable ; or else
they must be selected without reference to a pre-
vious standard, by the Self-will of the conscious
agent, or -his ideas of what true happiness would
consist in. Either intuition (which assumes
omniscience), or individual self-will, founded on an
imagination of the most desirable end, must be
relied upon ,-to furnish the criterion, through
furnishing the end, of right action. But by neither
of these can a criterion be furnished ; and therefore
neither of them can be counted among the principles
or facts, which constitute the Foundations upon
which Ethical theory can be built. All forms of
Intuitionism on the one hand, and of Eudienionism
and its congeners on the other, are therefore ex-
cluded from claiming validity as ethical theories.
For their constitutive principle as theories compels
them to base that claim either on the possession of
intuitive truth, or on the imaginations of self-will ;




i 4 -



of which the one is an impossibility for human
agents, the other a proceeding in human nature
which, taken alone, is the contradictory of Moral
Law, in the wide sense of a law applicable to govern
or guide volitions.

The first and most rudimentary question in Ethic
is, not whether man naturally desires Happiness or
Welfare, nor yet whether of two or more grati-
fications he naturally desires the greatest, (both
questions being plainly answerable in the affirma-
tive), but whether the adoption of either of those
desires as ultimate Ends is the way which leads to
the attainment or realisation of them. It may well
be, that to aim at happiness is the surest way to
miss its attainment ; either because our idea of
what happiness consists in is erroneous, or because
our knowledge of the means to secure it is im-
perfect, or because the habit of seeking it renders
us peculiarly sensitive to misfortune, or peculiarly
liable to discontent and envy at the sight of the
superior good fortune of others. And when we
have once seen, that the adoption as an End, either
of happiness generally, or of the greatest apparent
happiness out of several, may be no step in the
process of attaining the desired Ends, a second
question is thereby immediately suggested, namely,
Whether happiness or welfare generally, or the
greatest imaginable happiness in particular, though
they are natural objects of desire, should not be
entirely abstracted from and disregarded, and the
guide of conduct looked for somewhere else than in
Ends of any kind, seeing that Ends are always
adopted Desires of some kind or other ? Supposing
this latter course to be taken, then volition, which


is the process of adopting desires, would still
be looked upon as the natural and necessary
mechanism of conduct, which undoubtedly it is ;
but at the same time the principle regulating the Con8 f enoe
mechanism and guiding the conduct would no
longer lie in the End of volitions, as their terminus
ad quern, but in some criticism and control of the
desires which are the motives of volitions, as their
terminus a quo.

The criticism and control exercised by Conscience
over volitions at the moment of choice, as set forth
in the foregoing Section, is a regulating principle of
this kind. It is the very antithesis of Self-will,
inasmuch as it consists in a conscious and voluntary
submission to Law, as it will be manifested in the
course about to be taken by Nature, and by the
powers and desires of the conscious agent himself,
other than those which are the immediate object of
criticism. Self-will on the other hand could find
no exponent more direct or more precise than the
adoption of a desired End as the rule governing
conduct, for no other reason than that of its greater
desirability than other Ends. For the Subject, who
is the agent of choice, thereby surrenders his
powers of self-criticism, and makes his dominant
desires, whatever they may be, and even if they are
realisable only in the future, by means of present
sacrifices, the self-legitimated dictators of his
action. Self-will means volition governed by desire
setting up for itself, against the criticism of self-
knowledge. It is volition in alliance with inclina-
tion instead of in alliance with reason. It is there-
fore not the same as, but antagonistic to, the will or
volition of the whole conscious being. Only that voli-


B CH K vi L tion is volition of the whole conscious being, in which

~ reason dictates to desire, not desire to reason. The

im erative se l ec ti n of an ultimate End is a volition, and it is

sden ^ 1 * s v lition which must be guided by reason, and
-Duties. no t by desire, if the whole conscious being is to be
in unison. Desires attract or impel as motives, but
they do not guide as reasons of conduct. An ina-
bility to distinguish motives from reasons seems to
lie at the root of all Eudsemonistic theories.

Another consideration also is of importance here.
A science which deals with actions on the assump-
tion of their being governed by Ends can never be
an ultimate and a practical science, both at once.
If it deals with the ultimate Ends of conduct, in
their governance of action, as already adopted and
fixed, in consequence of their appearing to satisfy
the strongest, or most universal and comprehensive
desires, then its whole business is to discover the
means, or subordinate Ends, which are best fitted
to secure and realise those ultimate Ends. But in
this way it becomes a merely prudential science, or
science of expediency, which, though practical in the
sense of guiding conduct, is not ultimate. The task
of comparing and criticising ultimate Ends, which
it renounces, must then be taken up by some other
science, the purpose of which would be to ascertain
what sort of ultimate Ends was, abstractedly
considered, the best; and such a science would
necessarily be one of purely abstract speculation or
Ideology. If on the other hand it deals with the
actual formation and adoption of the ultimate Ends
which govern conduct, whether in connection with
such an Ideology or not, then it becomes a simply
positive science, enquiring into the laws of the de


Jacto history and development of individuals and of
the race, as they have actually taken place in the
general order of existence, and is a practical science
no longer. And in neither case, that is, neither as Cons ^i enoe
a prudential nor as a positive science, can it make - Juties -
any claim to rank as a necessary part or branch of
Philosophy, or to take its place therein by the side
of Logic, as a practical science founded upon a
science of practice.

The true science of Ethic, which is at once
philosophical, practical, and ultimate, must be
founded on the phenomena of conscious action as
seen and judged by self-consciousness ; which is
saying in other words, if the foregoing analysis is in
principle correct, that it must be based upon
analysis of the judgments of Conscience, and have
for its practical purpose at once to systematise
those judgments, and to apply them to enlighten
and guide men's actual conduct, as Logic, in its
practical department, enlightens and guides their
reasoning powers. It is of course only the Founda-
tions of this science that are our present subject.
Yet these foundations cannot be sufficiently laid,
unless we proceed to show, in general outline, how
the judgments of Conscience act upon volitions in
the concrete, and what the general characteristics
are, which mark their intervention in the course of

The most general and at the same time most
essential feature involved in the approval and dis-
approval of volitions by Conscience, according to
the foregoing analysis, is its claim, immediately felt,
to unconditional obedience on the part of the con-
scious agent ; I mean, obedience unconditioned by







consideration of the pleasure or pain which will
result to himself from conforming to its dictates.
The End, or desire to be adopted, is to be deter-
mined by the judgment of Conscience, not the
judgment of Conscience by any desired End. And
the circumstance, that the obedience required by
conscience is unconditional, gives its dictates the
character of Commands, a character called by Kant
its " Categorical Imperative," the immanent voli-
tions and overt or transeunt actions commanded by
which are moral Duties. Kant, it is well known,
goes so far as to say, that those Duties which are
imperatively commanded by Conscience are never
impossible, " Du kannst well Du sollst" ; a saying
which is supported by the fact, that what is thus
commanded is always an immanent act of choice,
including the will to execute it by a transeunt act,
though not including its actual execution, unless the
transeunt act executing it is also in our own power.
Still the saying cannot be accepted without a
word or two of explanation, and possibly of restric-
tion. It is true, that Conscience commands the
execution of volitions only so far as it depends
upon the volition of the agent, and that, in the
volitions themselves, the immanent act of choice is
alone commanded immediately. But it does not
necessarily follow that, because an immanent act
of choice is directly and immediately commanded,
it is within the power of the agent to determine
his choice actually as, by the judgment of Con-
science, he knows he ought to determine it. Con-
science, it is true, being a judgment, in one sense
involves volition, or is itself a voluntary act, but
the volition so involved is the volition to judge,



BOOK 1 1 [.



not the volition to obey a judgment. The self-
conscious judgment of what is right is one thing,
the volition to obey it is another, and this volition

J Imperative

may not always be possible, that is, in our own Conp / ence
power. For when it is said, as it has been said
above, that both or all of the alternatives offered
to choice are possible, the meaning is, that there
is no other obstacle to resolving upon any one
of them, than what lies in the immanent action
of choosing or resolving itself. Nihil voluntati
obnoocium, nisi ipsa voluntas. Obstacles lying in
the immanent action of choice or resolve are
known by the familiar phrase, weakness of will.
Judging and choosing may both alike be func-
tions of the same neuro-cerebral redintegrative
mechanism, taken as a single but complex organ ;
but it does not follow that, in the working of this
mechanism, the two functions are weak and strong-
together, or that their changes in point of weakness
and strength are inseparable from each other.
And the choosing or resolving power may be so
weakened by habit, or so powerfully affected by
the gratification offered by one alternative, or by
the aversion or dread inspired by another, that its
power to obey the command of Conscience by
an immanent act of choice may be practically

What remains in all such cases, so long as the
voice of Conscience is listened to at all, is this ; a
power in the volition to adopt a desire to strengthen
its own ability of making the choice which Con-
science commands, and for that purpose to keep
the command of Conscience steadily in view, and
refrain from representing the desire or the aversion,







which are the motives of choosing an opposite
alternative. Thus a secondary choice will be
im rative ma de, as a means towards making, at some future
Consdence ^ut no ^ Distant time, the choice originally com-
manded by Conscience ; and the power of making
this originally commanded choice, in case it should
continue possible or be presented again, will
become the ulterior End of the choice immediately
made as a means towards it ; both of which acts of
choice will be dictated by the same judgment of
Conscience. What seems to be undeniably true in
Kant's dictum is this, that, so long as the agent
represents any alternatives as equally possible to
him, he can hear the voice of Conscience ; and, so
long as he hears the voice of Conscience, there are
some alternatives which he has the power of
adopting in obedience to it.

The unconditional character of the judgments of
Conscience gives, it will be noticed, a new turn to
the whole question. In the light of this circum-
stance, the judgments of Conscience become
Commands, and the alternatives judged right
become acts commanded, that is, Duties. We
pass from the ideas of right and wrong directions
of action, to the ideas of commands issued, and
of duties done in obedience to them. And since
these two sets of ideas are combined in the phe-
nomena which they describe in common, we have
also a third description drawn from their combina-
tion ; a description which makes use of the ideas
of sentences passed by legal tribunals, and of the
opposite claims of disputants, which those tribunals
adjudicate. In this imagery, the alternatives offered
to choice are personified as disputants putting


forward claims, and Conscience is personified as I Q K VI L
the judge who gives sentence between them, which 77"
sentence it is the duty of both parties to obey. i m pe tive
With the idea of duty is thus connected that of a C onsdence.
debt due or owing to some one, as well as that - Duties -
of obedience to the command of a superior, and
both ideas are expressed in common by the term
it n< I lit, as applied to actions which are right, or due,
or morally fitting to be performed, and as opposed
to actions which are performed simply, and take
place de facto, though possibly not de jure also.

All this of course is mere imagery, used to
express in familiar language the complex facts
which are involved in choosing between the par-
ticular alternatives offered to choice by the concrete
circumstances of daily life and intercourse with
others. The use of the imagery does not imply,
that the nature of the phenomenon of choosing
between alternatives by immanent acts of choice,
and of guiding those acts by the judgments of self-
consciousness, is derived from the nature of a
command issued by a superior, or of a debt due to
a, creditor, or of a sentence passed by a legal
tribunal, any more than the nature of a morally
right action is derived from that of an imaginary
straight line. The case is just the reverse ; I mean
that, without the facts of choice and of Conscience,
those of lawful command and obedience, of debt
lawfully due, and of legal tribunals lawfully
established, would have had no recognised
existence ; the moral validity now implied in the

Online LibraryShadworth Hollway HodgsonThe metaphysic of experience (Volume 4) → online text (page 7 of 36)