Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/211

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


to establish normal principles. It was, therefore, necessary to loosen the bonds which had bound ethics to unscientific propositions and dogmas of traditional transcendentalism, and to establish its scientific character by a union with the foundations of our scientific knowledge. This, in brief, is the programme for the reform of ethics, or, rather, for its establishment on a new basis. The unscientific methods em- ployed by ethical writers are sharply criticised ; the logical propositions upon which the foundation of scientific ethics depends are clearly stated ; and the false premises exposed which render all scientific pro- cedure impossible.

In the exposition of the relativity of suffering and enjoyment, and in the sections on " Egoism versus Altruism " and " Altruism versus Egoism," the author grapples with the fundamental problems of an- thropological ethics. The priority of egoism is convincingly set forth, the spontaneous origin of pure altruism, and the interdependence and complementary relations of both principles ; while the one-sided as- sertions and demands of their respective champions are refuted. The final reconciliation of egoism and altruism is inferred from evolution, from which the author also reaches that conciliatory and compromising position which enables him to reconcile many seemingly contradictory phenomena.

Evolutionary morals are wholly hedonistic. The happiness-giving is the good ; and it is owing to theological and political influences alone that mankind overlook this truth. The idea and the desire of happiness, of perfect well-being, necessarily mark the character of good conduct. Moral life is a series of compromises between egoism and altruism. All other moral principles derive their conditional justification from this first principle of human action, which is charac- terized by Kant as the negation of all morality. The idea of perfecti- bility is tried by the same standard, and we are reminded that capacity for the reception of happiness is the highest proof of the perfectibility of human nature. Aristotle, who recognized happiness as the highest aim of human endeavor, took a step out of his way when he " sought to define happiness by the aid of the word ' virtue,' instead of defining virtue by the aid of the word ' happiness.' " Hence it must be con- ceded that " the conception of virtue can not be separated from the conception of happiness-producing conduct ; and that, as this holds of all the virtues, however otherwise unlike, it is from their conducive- ness to happiness that they come to be classed as virtues."

The welfare of society as a whole is regarded as the first problem, but not as the final object, being preparatory to the furthering of indi- vidual life and welfare, which is to be compassed by the fostering of social interests. The subjection of personal to social welfare is re- garded as a temporary consequence of the existence of antagonistic societies ; and, when the social aggregate, arrived at a certain ele- vation of development, shall no longer be in danger, the welfare

�� �