Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/353

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349
SOMETHING NEW IN "FREEWILL"

and punish without taking into consideration what is in the person with whom we are dealing. That such a doctrine should be brought forward at all, can only be explained, I think, on the ground that the "freewillist," having been brought up to think that "freewill" actions are, above all others, the actions of which ethics must take account, and now being brought to a consciousness of the absurdity of talking about the merit or demerit of "free" actions, feels driven to the extreme statement that we must banish the notions of merit and demerit from ethics altogether.

To be sure, it is hinted that we are forced to drop all consideration of merit, not because we are assured that there is no such thing, but rather because we must remain in doubt as to who may justly lay claim to it, if any may — "God alone can know our merits, if we have any." So far as our dealings with our fellowmen go, however, it is as though there were no such thing; and with merit goes demerit; and, of course, their synonyms good and ill desert go, too. We must not look upon men as deserving or undeserving, for "God alone can know" in such matters as these.

Now I beg the reader to open his eyes upon his own life and that of his companions, and to ask himself whether he would ever dream of living through a day under the guidance of such ethical principles as are here suggested. Remember that the principles are these: he who does good acts is to be praised; he who does bad acts is to be punished; no consideration is to be had to what is in the agent, he is to be praised or punished "anyhow"; no act is to be looked upon as meritorious or the reverse, as creditable or discreditable.

Think of the frightful insults which one living a day under these principles would, by his indiscriminate praise, heap upon the unoffending heads of the good — the uncalled-for compliments paid to gentle old ladies on their keeping out of street brawls; the congratulations lavished upon the president of the temperance society in view of the fact that he passed a dozen saloons without going in; the warm grasp of the hand given to the college professor for his regular and studious habits. Think of the cruelty which would result from treating all offenders alike — the mature and the immature, the case-hardened and the man who has succumbed to sudden temptation. Think of the distortion of the moral judgment which must result from embracing the opinion that nothing is creditable or discreditable to anybody. That freshmen should skip like lambs does not seem unnatural or unbecoming; but that the venerable men who are set over them should disport themselves as rams must be regarded as discreditable, I submit, by any unbiased mind.

Such a day as the one referred to above would be a day in a thousand, and its description well worthy of the pen of a ready writer.