Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/111

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SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE.

SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE.

ETHICS AS A SCIENCE.

Thanks to such writers as Spencer, Stephen and Sutherland, we have been long familiar with ethics treated from a scientific standpoint. Yet the science of ethics, as pursued by these thinkers, betrayed one evident defect—it proceeded by analogy from the physical sciences. In the new work, entitled 'Ethics, Descriptive and Explanatory' (Macmillan), by Professor Mezes, of the University of Texas, an effort is made to remove this reproach. His aim "is to give as adequate critical and methodical an account as possible of what morality and immorality are... to construct a positive or purely scientific theory of Ethics, and to give a naturalistic account of all the aspects of morality and immorality." Mr. Mezes does not forget that this is a vast undertaking, one not to be compassed within the limits of a text-book such as this professes to be. But, remembering these restrictions. Me may say that he has produced an excellent work; indeed, so excellent, that it were well worth his while to consider whether it might not be wise for him to view it as the prospectus of a far more ambitious undertaking, in which some, if not all, the major problems could be wrought out with fullness. The plan pursued by Mr. Mezes is as follows: In the Introduction, he defines ethics, shows its scope and method, and distinguishes between moral and non-moral phenomena. The body of the book consists of two parts, the first dealing with subjective morality and the individual conscience; the second discussing objective morality, and embracing, among other inquiries, an admirable analysis of justice. A conclusion treats the nature and value of morality. As the work is undoubtedly of considerable importance, several interesting features deserve mention. Mr. Mezes is thoroughly objective in his method, and so approaches, within his chosen sphere, the standpoint which a biologist might occupy in his. Significant in this connection is his shrewd suggestion that ethics is not to be treated as a teleological science till you come to the end of it. He is to be commended greatly, further, for the even-handed way in which he grapples with the ticklish questions of conscience and the like. He shows clearly that Moralitat, while by no means of the importance assigned it by the traditional English and theological moralists, cannot be overlooked. In particular, he contrives to put the results of psychological research to good use in his analysis. This is one of several pleasing and hopeful features. Similarly, in this connection, he rids himself of the time-honored static conception of conscience, and, by adopting a dynamic theory, actually vindicates a concrete place in moral life for this hoary abstraction. So, too, when he passes to objective morality (Sittlichkeit), and makes contact with the cardinal virtues. Under his sober hand, these cease to be vague entities floating in mid-air, and come to take their places as vital results of objective morality—results shot out, as it were, by the interaction of man with man. The chapter on justice deserves to rank with the best discussions of the subject. Mr. Mezes, in short, has managed to free himself from many of the stultifications that have beset scientific moralists in the past. Whether he has emancipated himself from all need not be discussed now. It is sufficient to note that he has produced a fresh, suggestive and most careful work; that he has adopted and held fast to a scientific