Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/352

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348
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

examination of them will be found interesting. In any case it ought to be useful to some; for when an author writes with passion and vehemence there are those who are in danger of being swept away with the tide of his eloquence, and of forgetting that they must not close their eyes to the world of palpable and admitted fact that lies about them.

Professor James makes lively objection to the emphasis which some of us have laid upon the fact that there seems no sense in making a man responsible for what he did not do and could not prevent; in other words, in rewarding or in punishing him for "freewill" actions, which, by hypothesis, do not spring from anything that is in him, but just "happen" to the poor man. "Freewillists" have sometimes maintained that only such actions can be regarded as creditable or the reverse. It does not seem out of place for the man who sympathizes with common sense and with science to point out that to reward a man for what he did not do and can not do again, or to punish him for what he did not do and can not be prevented from having happen to him again, is highly absurd.

This answer of common sense to the position taken by the "freewillist," may, it is admitted, be good ad hominem, but it is declared to be otherwise pitiful. Every man, woman and child, with a sense for realities, ought, we are informed, to be ashamed to plead such principles as either dignity or imputability.


If a man does good acts we shall praise him, if he does bad acts we shall punish him — anyhow, and quite apart from theories as to whether the acts result from what was previously in him or are novelties in a strict sense. To make our human ethics revolve about the question of " merit " is a piteous unreality — God alone can know our merits, if we have any.[1]


Now the common-sense determinist, that is, the man who believes in human freedom in the ordinary signification of the word — who thinks that the good man will freely choose the good, the bad man the evil, the wise man the prudent course of action, the rash and imprudent the gaming table — the common-sense determinist, I say, can have no quarrel with the position, taken by Professor James, that utility must be consulted in carrying on the social business of punishment and praise. What more natural than that the man who believes human actions to be explicable, even if not always explained, and who has confidence in the efficacy of persuasion, reward and punishment, should consult the principle of utility. He wishes to attain certain philanthropic ends; he believes that they can be attained by the employment of the appropriate means; and he turns to the means.

But the common-sense determinist, like every one else who takes an interest in ethics, must find rather paralyzing the idea that we should eliminate from ethics the notion of "merit," and should praise

  1. "Pragmatism," p. 118.