Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/567

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CIVILIZATION AND MORALS

CIVILIZATION AND MORALS.
By J. N. LARNED.

IN bringing these two subject-matters of thought into conjunction with one another, I wish, if possible, to set them clear of all controversy at the outset. No attempt at a definition for either can escape dispute; but a merely indicative statement may be made in each case that will give form enough to the conception without touching any point of question in it. If I should say, for example, with Mr. Emerson, that civilization is "a certain degree of progress from the rudest state in which man is found," I should provoke the disputes that are rife as to what is and what is not "progress" for the human race. But I may safely say that civilization is a certain cumulative succession of modifications or changes in the state and character of men—which indicates the conception quite distinctly enough, and excludes every matter of debate. In like manner I may avoid the disputations of the ethical schools, and yet set out a notion of morals that will serve every present purpose of thinking, if I say that moral philosophy has for its subject human conduct, considered with reference to whatever absolute qualities may be found in it. It might seem, on the first thought, that this statement assumes the very thing that is in question between those who contend for the absoluteness and those who contend for the relativity of our ideas of right and wrong. But it is not so. The dispute of the moralists has reference, not to any characteristic of the qualities in conduct which we cognize as moral, but to the mode in which they are cognized. Our conception of such qualities involves the conception of absoluteness in them, and it is only by that notion of absoluteness that they are distinguished from the other qualities which appear in human conduct, such as wisdom, prudence, ingenuity, and the like. The imperative "ought" which puts its mark upon what is moral, in distinction from what is prudent or expedient, is just as autocratic in the doctrine of the utilitarian as in that of the intuitionist. The former, as Mr. Sidgwick has pointed out in his admirable analysis of "The Methods of Ethics," can only hold that the moral rules of conduct are means relative to an end (greatest happiness) by holding that the end itself is prescribed absolutely, and ought to be pursued. But absoluteness of end involves absoluteness of means, since means and end are inseparable—so far as human knowledge goes—and cannot be conceived of apart. Hence the qualities in conduct which the utilitarian finds essential to the attaining of the object that represents "duty" to him are just as absolute in his view as in the view of the intuitive moralist, who admits nothing objective in his notion of "duty." In what I have to say,