T. Spencer (Thomas Spencer) Baynes.

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discovery of the utility of an action, or the opposite,



CONSCIENCE,



373



appeals to a particular capaoityof feeling which can
thus he aifected a§reeahly or disagreeably. If the
word "conscience" is used under any of these sys-
tems, it must always mean the sense itself as a capac-
ity, or potentiality, or as an activity.

If the refutation of this theory of a moral sense be
a cepted, as showing that good and evil are not thus
infallibly detected, and that differing moral judgments
cannot be accounted for thereby, of course the cor-
rectness of this .use of the word can no longer be
maintained. The ease and quickness with which
moral judgments are formed in most cases, the intense
conviction of their truth, and the almost universal
acquiescence in the same, indicating both a uniform
standard of comparison and an entire agreement in
the understanding and definition of the action judged,
all this shows that a habit has been formed, inherited,
and cultured, of judging with such alertness as to elude
the ordinary unphilosophic, or even the philosophic,
consciousness; that the actual process, discoverable
by patient analysis, has been shpped over, and the
whole state or activity wearing thus the appearance of
spontaneity, has come to be called a sense m action, or
by others an immediate intuition.

The above criticism will apply also to the system of
Mackintosh, who differs from the writers just named
only in his endeavor to trace the origin of this same
moral sense or conscience, looking upon it as a derived
and secondary.sense, the result of the association and
mutual modification of many attractions and aversions.

The system of Adam Smith seizes the altruistic in-
stinct, sympathy, and endeavors to show that in judg-
ing the conduct of others we are governed by a pre-
ponderance of sympathy ; and that m judging our own
conduct we hypostatise the common sympathy, as that
of an impartial spectator, who thus judges, and ac-
quits or oondemps us. Conscience, with him, then, is the
feeling of sympathy, in minimum or in overplus, thus
fortified by the general sympathy. _ The conspicuous
fact that we sometimes judge an action to be right or
wrong when the general sympathy is entirely the other
way, shows that Smith has overlooked the true crite-
rion, and that the system does not give a correct ac-
count of moral experiences, and, therefore, our term
"conscience" cannot be legitimately applied to any
such phantasmal process ; nevertheless, had Smith
pushed his examination somewhat deeper, and scru-
tinized more closely this wonderful fact of sympathy,
and discovered that it implies the organic unity of the
human race, and in a lower sense, but one no less real,
the unity of all animal life, he might have reached an
important and essential element of the ultimate and
eclectic system of ethics : a sort of mediating principle
between utilitarian and intuitionalist schemes.

We have already alluded to the function of con-
science as given by Kant, which consists in holding up
the Categorical Imperative, the Will's own legislative
and judiciary norm. But if, as his critics assert, this
is a form withojjt content, and we are still left without
the means "of making absolutely trustworthy moral
judgments, the function of conscience is too much
narrowed, and we insist upon having the word for
other and more valuable and indispensable use. All
this does not ignore the important service done to
moral philosophy by Kant, which consisted in giving,
even in its autonomic form, a kind of objectivity to
the moral idea, making it to be something more than
a means to the end of individual happiness, making it
an end per se. Thus with him it oecomes the pre-
supposition and basis of all speculation upon the super-
sensuous, and hence also of rational religion. With
him the universal validity of the moral law became
the formal principle of morality. Its material princi-
ple, the exhaustive content of the moral idea itself, he
aid not set forth, though hovering always on the edge
of the solution. Hence the possible or seeming incon-
sistency in his use of the word "conscience " to which
we have referred ahove.



Piohte endeavored to supply the material principle to
the Kantian Ethic, this principle being the assertion and
endeavor after absolute self-dependence, hence an end
to be approached by an infinite process. But this looks
like the denial of any moral organism, seems the very
extreme of individualism. The conditions for a true
ethic exist not, and the common instinct of men recoils
from this absolutism of the individual subject, as the
very contradiction of the moral idea. Conscience with
him, then, would be the immediate feeling of harmony
betweee the natural tendency and this tendency to
absolut.e freedom.

The system of pure Intuitionalism, which was first
in England carefully formulated by Kichard Price, not
illumined by Reid, but confusedly reuttered by Dugald
Stewart, has reached its clearest expression in Prof
Henry Calderwood. With him "conscience" is "that
power of mind by which moral law is discovered to
each individual for the guidance of his conduct. " . . .
" In discovering to us truth it is seen to be a cognition
or intellectual power. Either it does not discern truth,
or if it does, it is not a form of feeling or combination
of feelings or affections or emotions or desires. ' ' Thus,
in discovering law, "it has authority over all other
springs of activity within us." . . . "Prom its very
nature it cannot be educated. ' ' Now this language of
Calderwood, though seeming precise, yet may be
thought to be otherwise, provided the correctness of
our analysis in the early part of this article be ad-
mitted. At one time his words seem to make com -
science identical with the intuition of the criterion,
standard, moral idea, which we named provisionally,
X. In asserting, however, that it has authority, which
authority may be recognized, he seems to be inconsis-
tent with his other assertion that it is not a form of
feeling, for the recognition of such moral law contains
within itself complacency,_ satisfaction. The judg-
ment cannot escape from this transfused feeling. With
this omission rectified, however, the word 'icon-
science ' ' would be used to indicate an acknowledged
fact or experience, and such use would not be, and
could not be, false.

With this class of philosophers, as with the be-
lievers in a moral sense, it seems so self-evident that
nien know so certainly that some dispositions and acts
are wrong, and certain others right, that they feel
justified in asserting that "conscience, from its very
nature, cannot be educated." But the utilitarian is
quite as well convinced, and another class of intuition-
alists is also convinced, that such discoveries cannot be
so easily and infallibly made ; and that while agree-
rnent might be reached in affirming what sort of char-
acter, disposition and activity in a perfect ideal state
would be right, would meet the approval of mind and
heart, would be acc|uiesced in by the spontaneous moral
judgment, which in that case would also be identical
with the aesthetic emotion ; yet that when actions in
the mixed and imperfect state are scrutinized, a judg-
ment of them trustworthy can be formed only as we
are fully and unmistakably acquainted with their
motives and their motive-spring, and are able also to
trace their consequences, and therefore that no such
unerring judgment of every concrete action as is
claimed for conscience is_ actual or even possible.
Therefore it may be questioned whether it is vrise to
use the word in the sense under examination, seeing
that it can have universal application and true validity
and objectivity only under the presupposition that we
are or can become perfectly acquainted with the char-
acter of the action, and also with the requirements of
the norm. The system which prefers this use of the
word does not furnish mankind vrith what they want
most, an unfailing rule of action. Perhaps no system
can supply this. But that one is preferable which
does not leave us in a fixed and helpless state, some-
times -searching after intuitions which do not come,
or their phantasms which deceive us ; but shows us
gome mode of approximation towards the perfect



374



CONSCIENCE.



knowledge whioh still eludes us, and makes applied
morality a work of progressive induction rather than
of precise deduction.

_ This is the claim and the endeavor both of utilita-
rians of the altruistic kind and of the other class of
intuitionahsts. Not all utilitarian writers have been
ca,reftil in the use of the word. Some have been quite
willing to use the phrase "moral sense," meaning
thereby a form of feeling, which may be called rever-
ence for moral distinctions or for one alternative of
the same, acquired from foregone experiences of
utility. Sometimes the pain-giving power of conscience
has been recognized, and made the prominent thing
in its definition and use. Utilitarians are very little
given to use the word to indicate any kind of knowl-
edge,_ or any form of knowing. The discovery that
certain actions in their results are pain- or pleasure-
giving, and therefore that pmdence counsels or warns,
IS not by them called ' ' conscience. ' ' The word ' ' obli-

fation, ' ' which implies a law superimposed and made
nown, does not usually find place in utilitarian sys-
tems ; though a form of that solution is quite possible
which can consistently use both words, and in the
highest sense ever claimed for them. Ordinarily, how-
ever, among this class of writers, the word "con-
science ' ' is not used to indicate the relation of an action
to a superimposed law, but to mean a feeling of content
or discontent with the actual as comparea with some
ideal or state desirable for the individual, or the
community, or mankind in general, which has been set
up as possible to be attained. This will be the cus-
tomary use of the word in both forms of hedonism.
The use of the word, then, will be correct so far as it
goes. Its inadequacy still arises from the grave fault
of most utilitarians in misapprehending the norm.
Hence the system which relies upon its ability to trace
the consequences of actions in order to discover their
moral quality, finding that in the search it soon plunges
into flarkness, confesses that it cannot supply an ade-
quate guide for human conduct, which must still
stumble on, often in the gloom.

With Prof Bain, conscience is a power gradually
manifesting itself in the individual consciousness from
observation of the government without us, parental,
civil, religious. The fear of encountering pain, the
desire to win complacency and kindness from those
having power over us, is at length supplemented by the
discovery of the young mind that the punishments
and rewards of those in authority are oestowed or
threatened wisely and for ends subserving the general
welfare ; and thus the child acquires not only a stand-
ard of comparison, but the feeling of dread or satis-
faction. This intelligence, thus gradually expanding,
with the accompanying feeling, is "conscience." It
is evident, however, that this conscience thus formed
in childhood cannot continue to meet the test of
matured knowledge, unless it appears that the au-
thority is wisely used, and does subserve the general
welfare. And thus, to be logically self-consistent, this
theory must merge into or be supplemented by the
utilitarian, and is liable to the same criticism. How-
ever, this endeavor of Prof Bain to show the rise and
growth of the moral intelligence contains important
truth. That the existence of authority external to us
does afford the stimulus of the young mind to examine
the moral idea within itself, to make its outlines start
into light and display their ramifications ; that this is
the way not only that every child has been educated,
but the way in which the human race has been edu-
cated, is precisely the teaching of the Jewish and Chris-
tian Scriptures, and the key to understand their pro-
gressive moral utterances.

The theory of Mr. Herbert Spencer is very subtle
and very ambitious, and is woven into his general
philosophy of evolution. In the early periods of the
history of the human race the discovery of the benefi-
cial effects or mischievous results of certain acts, to
one's self immediately, or to others immediately, and



thus to one's self mediately, generates habits of doing-
or avoiding such acts, of seeking or shunning oppor-
tunities of doing them. The accompanying feeling of
attraction or repulsion grows stronger by use. The
habit and the feeling are transmitted to the succeeding
generations, acquiring minute and incessant modifica-
tions, till all memory of its origin is lost ; and the
man comes to think that this thing is to be done, and
that to be avoided, he knows not why ; so that it has
become an instinct, and has the immediacy of appetite,
or acts like a sense, or seems an intuition. This spon-
taneous proclivity or avoidance then may be called
"conscience." Keally it is made out to be a judg-
ment, of the conditions for which the mind has lost dl
trace, till it attempts by difficult and almost hopeless
thought to recover its obliterated history.

Though this theory cannot be proven, it may be
made probable. It may be accepted as hypothetical
history without misgivings. But it is not exhaustive,
it will not account for all of our moral experience.
This possible evolution may have served the same pur-
pose exactly as Prof Bain's "education." It has
been the occasion, and has furnished the stimulus to
the infant human race to look within. It has made it
sure that actions are not indiiferent, and caused it to
betake itself to the task of introspection in order to
discover what kind of actions, and what dispositions
or character will meet its ultimate approval. The
soul has found itself possessed of egoistic and altruistic
instincts. Life requires that these shall be mediated
somehow, reconciled, and harmonized. This can only
be done by comparison with a represented state or con-
dition, carried as far into the future as the intelligence
will allow, and which owes its birth to imagination ;
that is, to the soul's self, kindled to thefuUest intensity
of its power, and transfusing itself into that ideal
state which can alone satisfy all the requirements of
being, intellectual, physical, ethical, and, in the har-
mony of all, £esthetical.

Even under this derivative theory of morality, then,
the word "conscience" can be legitimately used to
indicate correspondence or contradiction of an action
with the preconceived norm, the imagined ideal state.
But, alas, the ideal state that hovers before Mr.
Spencer's vision, of improved and harmonized in-
stincts, is impossible in this world of tempests and
agonies. Hence the endeavor to contemplate some-
thing so shadowy, to whioh the onward march of
necessity, of molecular action, is carrying us, leaves us
in a pessimistic frame of mind ; and we cannot help
thinking that it is the grimmest' of self-mockeries to
think that we are free, when we are not, and to take
any pains in the matter.

While the one class of intuitionahsts who hold the
idea of good to be simple show a preference to use
the word "conscience" to indicate the soul's posses-
sion of a norm, and the inevitable approbation or con-
demnation of an action resulting from the comparison ;
the other class, who hold good to be^ complex idea,
giving various definitions (Wollaston, Clark, Montes-
quieu, Malebranche, Wolf, Jouffroy, et al.) show a
disposition to use it to mean the process of compari-
son of the action with the norm, where the approbation
or condemnation, though sure, and having authority,
yet is not unerring, but may_ be susceptible of all de-
grees, and various kinds of improvement. It is not
necessary to criticise the various attempts at explana-
tion of the moral idea given by these authors ; the
definition of conscience we have given will hold good
for any or all of them.

An ethical system is possible and to be desired which
shall bring together into a consistent whole the
ineffaceable aspect of truth, the imperishable element
in each of these systems we have brought up for brief
inspection, and which has given to it its vitality. It
may seem strange that the human intellect has not •
succeeded yet in doing this, though haunted by a
sense of its possibility. Were the task accomplished,



CONSCIENCE.



375



it would still be a question whether to retain the use
of the word "conscience," or to reject it with Rothe ;
and, if retaining it, to what mode of consciousness
strictly, consistently, and uniformly to apply it. Per-
haps the safest and wisest course is to use the word to
indicate the intelligence displayed in comparing an
action with an ideal standard, together with the
accompanying feeling, of complacencv or its opposite,
elicited by the comparison. This ideal exists. The
endeavor to account for its origin and development
has given rise to such schemes as those of Adam
Smitn, and Bain, and Spencer. The endeavor to
account for the immediacy of its apprehension has
given rise to pure intuitionalism, and the notion
of a moral sense. The endeavor to analyze the
ideal itself gives rise to utilitarianism. The success
of this endeavor has not been recognized, the analysis
is thought to be superficial and unsatisfactory, prob-
ably because for the most part utilitarianism has been
fettered or blinded by what is called the philosophy of
einpiricism.

The idea of the good, the attitude of the reason
towards which is expressed by the word oMigation, still
awaits analysis and reconciliation with the ultimate
philosophy, with the Ideal Realism which is gradually
constructing itself out of the imperishable masses or
fragments of truth contained in previous systems,
and all the labors of the past will be found to have
cleared the way and simplified the problem, bringing
more and more distinctly before us for intensest
scrutiny the unique experience, called moral, which no
philosophy has been Jible to think away. Whatever
be the result of this scrutiny ,_ that complex, far-reach-
ing, and many-sided experience will, either _ in its
totality or in one of its essential elements, continue to
be called by the name — "conscience."

IV. To know the exact sense in which this word, or
its equivalent, has been used by every notable philoso-
pher, from Socrates and his predecessors downward, it
would be necessary to reproduce their thought. We
can only mention a few representative names to indicate
such actual variations of thought as have correspond-
ing uses of the word.

In Socrates we find a number of moral rules, with
no attempt to exhibit their unity. Morality consists
in subordinating the sensual to the rational, and
conscience would be the faculty detecting the degree
of subordination. His ideal standard is that of a well-
ordered civil state, and is lacking in universalistio con-
ceptions. With Plato, virtue means both wisdoui
and strength, and shows itself in these, and in manli-
ness, temperance, and justness. It requires for its
field, however, the community life, the state. Only as
a citizen, and as contributing to the perfection of this
organized machine, can the individual realize true mor-
ality. Thus the lower classes cannot be fully developed.
They exist only for those above them. Plato's system
does not do justice to the category of the individual,
and his ethic is devoid of universalistic conceptions,
and what we call moral obligation is not comprised in
it. With him, conscience must mean the faculty
detecting correspondence of action and character with
. his definition of true wisdom and virtue.

The idea of the state, of the moral community life,
appears again in Aristotle, and is still more profoundly
treated. There is no recognition of humanity .as a
moral whole. Virtue is stul to be had by the free
citizen alone. There is, however, in Aristotle a
clearer recognition of moral freedom than in Socrates
or Plato ; hence, that knowledge and practice do not
always go together. The facts of dereliction, accusa-
tion, and condemnation would, therefore, receive greater
emphasis, and this function of conscience be more
clearly seen, and somewhat more dwelt upon. With
the Greeks in general, however, even in the most ideal
systems, morality is the product of a wise and rational
calculation, thus a form of utiUtarianism, and something
quite other than the Kantian ethics. Very little stress
Vol. II.— W



is laid upon the judiciary function of conscience, for
the reason that the sense of sin, of moral discordance
was not deep, and hence the feelings arising there-
from, though existing, and not entirely extinguishable,
yet were weak, and not distressingly painful.

In Epicurism, with its tendency to the external, to
an ideal of joyous voluptuousness, and in Stoicism,
with its tendency inward, its pride and intense self-
satisfaction, its ideal of spiritual strength*, of course,
conscience would vary in its signification accordingly ;
and a man's failure to reach the one end or the other,
would inspire in the one way of thinking pity, in the
other contempt ; and the work of conscience would be
narrowed down to this. Both systems are still only
forms of selfishness.

All the functions of conscience, and all the elements
of any possible moral experience, short of the Christian,
make tneir appearance in the ethics of Judaism. Here
the element of feeling receives great intensification.
While, to be sure, the standard or criterion appears as
a positive, objective, historically revealed law, such as
parents set forth to their children, and is gradually
adapted to their advancing intelligence, still there is
taken for granted all the while its coincidence with the
inward norm, and no contradiction between the same is
thought possible. Strictly and scientifically speaking,
conduct and character are moral, only as they are com-
pared with the inner norm. Their relation to the
outwardly propounded law is more correctly termed
religious; as coining under the same head with ceremo-
nial observances prescribed by positive enactments,
they are part of a cultus ; which, however, may be a
means to an end properly moral. Conscience, then, in
Jewish ethics, may and does usually mean religious
conscience, the intelligence contemplating the relation
of the action to the external law.

In Christianity the absolute coalescence of morality
and religion is proclaimed ; which, however, does not
mean that the first exhausts the significance of the
second, but that it finds its ground in it. The New
Testament writings contain an ethic so profound that
all the labors of Christian moral philosophers have
been needed for its display and elucidation, and the
vindication of its absolute rationaUty. If the result
of human labor in pure ethical science shall succeed in
exhibiting the identity of the ultimate moral theory or
solution, comprising all its facts and implications, with
that which underlies the Christian consciousness, it
will be proof that the highest achievements of human
intellect were by Christianity anticipated, and thus
men be led to conclude afresh, and on profounder
grounds than ever, that it is a revelation indeed.

The labors of Bishop Butler in moral science deserve
high commendation. Under other names his investi-
gation goes to establish, by careful observation, the
'predisposition to good" and the "bias- to evil" in
human nature, — the conclusion reached by Kant, — and
his definition of "conscience" is coincident with that
we have approved above, "a principle of reflection in
men, whereby they distinguish between, approve and
disapprove their own actions," which alone should
cause him to be reckoned among rational moral philos-
ophers, and not among sentimentalists ; for his use of
the phrase, "a principle pf reflection," implies a ra-
tional standard of comparison. He did not, however,
set himself to analyze the moral idea, nor to investi-
gate its origin, or the modus of its development.

It is hard to find a system of ethics in Hegel. Free-
dom and necessity are, indeed, different aspects of a
concrete whole, but with him self-determination is so
thought as to appear rather self-necessitation than what
we ordinarily call /reecZom; whereas most moral philos-
ophers hold to the naive sense of the latter word as
a primary of thought, and therefore not to be aban-
doned. Yet, in holding that in the famOy and the



Online LibraryT. Spencer (Thomas Spencer) BaynesThe Encyclopædia Britannica; a dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature → online text (page 99 of 250)