Ethical Studies/Essay 5
WE have traversed by this time, however cursorily, a considerable field, and so far it might appear without any issue, or at best with a merely negative result. Certainly, in our anticipatory remarks (Essay II.), we thought we found some answer to the question, What is the end? But that answer was too abstract to stand by itself. And, if we may be said to know thus much, that the end is self-realization, yet at present we do not seem to have learnt anything about the self to be realized. And the detail of Essays II. and III. appears at most to have given us some knowledge of that which self-realization is not.
We have learnt that the self to be realized is not the self as this or that feeling, or as any series of the particular feelings of our own or others’ streams or trains of consciousness. It is, in short, not the self to be pleased. The greatest sum of units of pleasure we found to be the idea of a mere collection, whereas, if we wanted morality, it was something like an universal that we wanted. Happiness, as the effort to construct that universal by the addition of particulars, gave us a futile and bastard product, which carried its self-destruction within it, in the continual assertion of its own universality, together with its unceasing actual particularity and finitude; so that happiness was, if we chose, nowhere not realized; or again, if we chose, not anywhere realizable. And, passing then to the opposite pole, to the universal as the negative of the particulars, to the supposed pure will or duty for duty’s sake, we found that too was an unreal conception. It was a mere form which, to be will, must give itself a content, and which could give itself a content only at the cost of a self-contradiction: we saw, further, that any such content was in addition arbitrarily postulated, and that, even then, the form was either never realized, because real in no particular content, or always and everywhere realized, because equally reconcileable with any content. And so, as before with happiness, we perceived that morality could have no existence, if it meant anything more than the continual asseveration of an empty formula. And, if we had chosen, we might have gone on to exhibit the falsity of asceticism, to see that the self can not be realized as its own mere negation, since morality is practice, is will to do something, is self-affirmation; and that a will to deny one’s will is not self-realization, but rather is, strictly speaking, a psychical impossibility, a self-contradictory illusion. And the possibility, again, of taking as the self to be realized the self which I happen to have, my natural being, and of making life the end of life in the sense that each should live his life as he happens to find it in his own nature, has been precluded beforehand by the result derived from the consideration of the moral consciousness, viz. that morality implies a superior, a higher self, or at all events an universal something which is above this or that self, and so above mine. And, to complete the account of our negations, we saw further, with respect to duty for duty’s sake, that even were it possible (as it is not) to create a content from the formula, and to elaborate in this manner a system of duties, yet even then the practice required by the theory would be impossible, and so too morality, since in practice particular duties must collide; and the collision of duties, if we hold to duty for duty’s sake, is the destruction of all duty, save the unrealized form of duty in general.
But let us view this result, which seems so unsatisfactory, from the positive side; let us see after all with what we are left. We have self-realization left as the end, the self so far being defined as neither a collection of particular feelings nor an abstract universal. The self is to be realized as something not simply one or the other; it is to be realized further as will, will not being merely the natural will, or the will as it happens to exist and finds itself here or there, but the will as the good will, i.e. the will that realizes an end which is above this or that man, superior to them, and capable of confronting them in the shape of a law or an ought. This superior something further, which is a possible law or ought to the individual man, does not depend for its existence on his choice or opinion. Either there is no morality, so says the moral consciousness, or moral duties exist independently of their position by this or that person: my duty may be mine and no other man’s, but I do not make it mine. If it is duty, it would be the duty of any person in my case and condition, whether they thought so or not: in a word, duty is ‘objective,’ in the sense of not being contingent on the opinion or choice of this or that subject.
What we have left then (to resume it) is this—the end is the realization of the good will which is superior to ourselves; and again the end is self-realization. Bringing these together, we see the end is the realization of ourselves as the will which is above ourselves. And this will (if morality exists) we saw must be ‘objective,’ because not dependent on ‘subjective’ liking; and ‘universal,’ because not identifiable with any particular, but standing above all actual and possible particulars. Further, though universal, it is not abstract, since it belongs to its essence that it should be realized, and it has no real existence except in and through its particulars. The good will (for morality) is meaningless, if, whatever else it be, it be not the will of living human beings. It is a concrete universal, because it not only is above but is within and throughout its details, and is so far only as they are. It is the life which can live only in and by them, as they are dead unless within it; it is the whole soul which lives so far as the body lives, which makes the body a living body, and which without the body is as unreal an abstraction as the body without it. It is an organism and a moral organism; and it is conscious self-realization, because only by the will of its self-conscious members can the moral organism give itself reality. It is the self-realization of the whole body, because it is one and the same will which lives and acts in the life and action of each. It is the self-realization of each member, because each member can not find the function, which makes him himself, apart from the whole to which he belongs; to be himself he must go beyond himself, to live his life he must live a life which is not merely his own, but which, none the less, but on the contrary all the more, is intensely and emphatically his own individuality. Here, and here first, are the contradictions which have beset us solved—here is an universal which can confront our wandering desires with a fixed and stern imperative, but which yet is no unreal form of the mind, but a living soul that penetrates and stands fast in the detail of actual existence. It is real, and real for me. It is in its affirmation that I affirm myself, for I am but as a ‘heart-beat in its system.’ And I am real in it; for, when I give myself to it, it gives me the fruition of my own personal activity, the accomplished ideal of my life which is happiness. In the realized idea which, superior to me, and yet here and now in and by me, affirms itself in a continuous process, we have found the end, we have found self-realization, duty, and happiness in one;—yes, we have found ourselves, when we have found our station and its duties, our function as an organ in the social organism.
‘Mere rhetoric,’ we shall be told, ‘a bad metaphysical dream, a stale old story once more warmed up, which can not hold its own against the logic of facts. That the state was prior to the individual, that the whole was sometimes more than the sum of the parts, was an illusion which preyed on the thinkers of Greece. But that illusion has been traced to its source and dispelled, and is in plain words exploded. The family, society, the state, and generally every community of men, consists of individuals, and there is nothing in them real except the individuals. Individuals have made them, and make them, by placing themselves and by standing in certain relations. The individuals are real by themselves, and it is because of them that the relations are real. They make them, they are real in them, not because of them, and they would be just as real out of them. The whole is the mere sum of the parts, and the parts are as real away from the whole as they are within the whole. Do you really suppose that the individual would perish if every form of community were destroyed? Do you think that anything real answers to the phrases of universal and organism? Everything is in the organism what it is out, and the universal is a name, the existing fact answering to which is particular persons in such and such relations. To put the matter shortly, the community is the sum of its parts, is made by the addition of parts; and the parts are as real before the addition as after; the relations they stand in do not make them what they are, but are accidental not essential to their being; and, as to the whole, if it is not a name for the individuals that compose it, is a name of nothing actual. These are not metaphysical dreams. They are facts and verifiable facts.’
Are they facts? Facts should explain facts; and the view called ‘individualism’ (because the one reality that it believes in is the ‘individual,’ in the sense of this, that, and the other particular) should hence be the right explanation. What are the facts here to be explained? They are human communities, the family, society, and the state. Individualism has explained them long ago. They are ‘collections’ held together by force, illusion, or contract. It has told the story of their origin, and to its own satisfaction cleared the matter up. Is the explanation satisfactory and verifiable? That would be a bold assertion, when historical science has rejected and entirely discredited the individualistic origin of society, and when, if we turn to practice, we find everywhere the state asserting itself as a power which has, and, if need be, asserts the right to make use of and expend the property and person of the individual without regard to his wishes, and which, moreover, may destroy his life in punishment, and put forth other powers such as no theory of contract will explain except by the most palpable fictions, while at the same time no ordinary person calls their morality in question. Both history and practical politics refuse to verify the ‘facts’ of the individualist; and we should find still less to confirm his theory if we examined the family.
If, then, apart from metaphysic, one looks at the history and present practice of society, these would not appear to establish the ‘fact’ that the individual is the one reality, and communities mere collections. ‘For all that,’ we shall be told, ‘it is the truth.’ True that is, I suppose, not as fact but as metaphysic; and this is what one finds too often with those who deride metaphysic and talk most of facts. Their minds, so far as such a thing may be, are not seldom mere ‘collective unities’ of metaphysical dogmas. They decry any real metaphysic, because they dimly feel that their own will not stand criticism; and they appeal to facts because, while their metaphysic stands, they feel they need not be afraid of them. When their view is pushed as to plain realities, such as the nature of gregarious animals, the probable origin of mankind from them, the institutions of early society, actual existing communities with the common type impressed on all their members, their organic structure and the assertion of the whole body as of paramount importance in comparison with any of the members, then they must fall back on their metaphysic. And the point we wish here to emphasize is this, that their metaphysic is mere dogmatism. It is assumed, not proved. It has a right to no refutation, for assertion can demand no more than counter-assertion; and what is affirmed on the one side, we on the other side can simply deny, and we intend to do so here.
A discussion that would go to the bottom of the question, What is an individual? is certainly wanted. It would certainly be desirable, showing first what an individual is, to show then that ‘individualism’ has not apprehended that, but taken an abstraction for reality. But, if I could do that (which I could not do), this would not be the place; nor perhaps should I have to say very much that has not been said before, and has been not attended to.
But we are not going to enter on a metaphysical question to which we are not equal; we meet the metaphysical assertion of the ‘individualist’ with a mere denial; and, turning to facts, we will try to show that they lead us in another direction. To the assertion, then, that selves are ‘individual’ in the sense of exclusive of other selves, we oppose the (equally justified) assertion, that this is a mere fancy. We say that, out of theory, no such individual men exist; and we will try to show from fact that, in fact, what we call an individual man is what he is because of and by virtue of community, and that communities are thus not mere names but something real, and can be regarded (if we mean to keep to facts) only as the one in the many.
And to confine the subject, and to keep to what is familiar, we will not call to our aid the life of animals, nor early societies, nor the course of history, but we will take men as they are now; we will take ourselves, and endeavour to keep wholly to the teaching of experience.
Let us take a man, an Englishman as he is now, and try to point out that, apart from what he has in common with others, apart from his sameness with others, he is not an Englishman—nor a man at all; that if you take him as something by himself, he is not what he is. Of course we do not mean to say that he can not go out of England without disappearing, nor, even if all the rest of the nation perished, that he would not survive. What we mean to say is, that he is what he is because he is a born and educated social being, and a member of an individual social organism; that if you make abstraction of all this, which is the same in him and in others, what you have left is not an Englishman, nor a man, but some I know not what residuum, which never has existed by itself, and does not so exist. If we suppose the world of relations, in which he was born and bred, never to have been, then we suppose the very essence of him not to be; if we take that away, we have taken him away; and hence he now is not an individual, in the sense of owing nothing to the sphere of relations in which he finds himself, but does contain those relations within himself as belonging to his very being; he is what he is, in brief, so far as he is what others also are.
But we shall be cut short here with an objection. ‘It is impossible,’ we shall be told, ‘that two men should have the same thing in common. You are confusing sameness and likeness.’ I say in answer that I am not, and that the too probable objector I am imagining too probably knows the meaning of neither one word nor the other. But this is a matter we do not intend to stay over, because it is a metaphysical question we can not discuss, and which, moreover, we can not be called on to discuss. We can not be called on to discuss it, because we have to do again here with sheer assertion, which either is ignorant of or ignores the critical investigation of the subject, and which, therefore, has no right to demand an answer. We allude to it merely because it has become a sort of catchword with ‘advanced thinkers.’ All that it comes to is this; first identity and diversity are assumed to exclude one another, and therefore, since diversity is a fact, it follows that there is no identity. Hence a difficulty; because it has been seen long ago, and forces itself upon every one, that denial of all identity brings you into sharp collision with ordinary fact, and leads to total scepticism; so, to avoid this, while we yet maintain the previous dogma, ‘resemblance’ is brought in,—a conception which (I suppose I need not add) is not analyzed or properly defined, and so does all the better. Against these assertions I shall put some others, viz. that identity and diversity, sameness and difference, imply one another, and depend for their meaning on one another; that mere diversity is nonsense, just as mere identity is also nonsense; that resemblance or likeness, strictly speaking, falls not in the objects, but in the person contemplating (likening, ver-gleichend); that ‘is A really like B?’ does not mean ‘does it seem like?’ It may mean ‘would it seem like to everybody?’ but it generally means ‘is there an “objective identity”? Is there a point or points the same in both, whether any one sees it or not?’ We do not talk of cases of ‘mistaken likeness;’ we do not hang one man because he is ‘exactly like’ another, or at least we do not wish to do so. We are the same as we were, not merely more or less like. We have the same faith, hope, and purpose, and the same feelings as another man has now, as ourselves had at another time,—not understanding thereby the numerical indistinguishedness of particular states and moments, but calling the feelings one and the same feeling, because what is felt is the same, and not merely like. In short, so far is it from being true that ‘sameness’ is really ‘likeness,’ that it is utterly false that two things are really and objectively ‘like,’ unless that means ‘more or less the same.’ So much by way of counter-assertion; and now let us turn to our facts.
The ‘individual’ man, the man into whose essence his community with others does not enter, who does not include relation to others in his very being, is, we say, a fiction, and in the light of facts we have to examine him. Let us take him in the shape of an English child as soon as he is born; for I suppose we ought not to go further back. Let us take him as soon as he is separated from his mother, and occupies a space clear and exclusive of all other human beings. At this time, education and custom will, I imagine, be allowed to have not as yet operated on him or lessened his ‘individuality.’ But is he now a mere ‘individual,’ in the sense of not implying in his being identity with others? We can not say that, if we hold to the teaching of modern physiology. Physiology would tell us, in one language or another, that even now the child’s mind is no passive ‘tabula rasa;’ he has an inner, a yet undeveloped nature, which must largely determine his future individuality. What is this inner nature? Is it particular to himself? Certainly not all of it, will have to be the answer. The child is not fallen from heaven. He is born of certain parents who come of certain families, and he has in him the qualities of his parents, and, as breeders would say, of the strains from both sides. Much of it we can see, and more we believe to be latent, and, given certain (possible or impossible) conditions, ready to come to light. On the descent of mental qualities modern investigation and popular experience, as expressed in uneducated vulgar opinion, altogether, I believe, support one another, and we need not linger here. But if the intellectual and active qualities do descend from ancestors, is it not, I would ask, quite clear that a man may have in him the same that his father and mother had, the same that his brothers and sisters have? And if any one objects to the word ‘same,’ I would put this to him. If, concerning two dogs allied in blood, I were to ask a man, ‘Is that of the same strain or stock as this?’ and were answered, ‘No, not the same, but similar,’ should I not think one of these things, that the man either meant to deceive me, or was a ‘thinker,’ or a fool?
But the child is not merely the member of a family; he is born into other spheres, and (passing over the subordinate wholes, which nevertheless do in many cases qualify him) he is born a member of the English nation. It is, I believe, a matter of fact that at birth the child of one race is not the same as the child of another; that in the children of the one race there is a certain identity, a developed or undeveloped national type, which may be hard to recognize, or which at present may even be unrecognizable, but which nevertheless in some form will appear. If that be the fact, then again we must say that one English child is in some points, though perhaps it does not as yet show itself, the same as another. His being is so far common to him with others; he is not a mere ‘individual.’
We see the child has been born at a certain time of parents of a certain race, and that means also of a certain degree of culture. It is the opinion of those best qualified to speak on the subject, that civilization is to some not inconsiderable extent hereditary; that aptitudes are developed, and are latent in the child at birth; and that it is a very different thing, even apart from education, to be born of civilized and of uncivilized ancestors. These ‘civilized tendencies,’ if we may use the phrase, are part of the essence of the child: he would only partly (if at all) be himself without them; he owes them to his ancestors, and his ancestors owe them to society. The ancestors were made what they were by the society they lived in. If in answer it be replied, ‘Yes, but individual ancestors were prior to their society,’ then that, to say the least of it, is a hazardous and unproved assertion, since man, so far as history can trace him back, is social; and if Mr. Darwin’s conjecture as to the developement of man from a social animal be received, we must say that man has never been anything but social, and society never was made by individual men. Nor, if the (baseless) assertion of the priority of individual men were allowed, would that destroy our case; for certainly our more immediate ancestors were social; and, whether society was manufactured previously by individuals or not, yet in their case it certainly was not so. They at all events have been so qualified by the common possessions of social mankind that, as members in the organism, they have become relative to the whole. If we suppose then that the results of the social life of the race are present in a latent and potential form in the child, can we deny that they are common property? Can we assert that they are not an element of sameness in all? Can we say that the individual is this individual, because he is exclusive, when, if we deduct from him what he includes, he loses characteristics which make him himself, and when again he does include what the others include, and therefore does (how can we escape the consequence?) include in some sense the others also, just as they include him? By himself, then, what are we to call him? I confess I do not know, unless we name him a theoretical attempt to isolate what can not be isolated; and that, I suppose, has out of our heads no existence. But what he is really, and not in mere theory, can be described only as the specification or particularization of that which is common, which is the same amid diversity, and without which the ‘individual’ would be so other than he is that we could not call him the same.
Thus the child is at birth; and he is born not into a desert, but into a living world, a whole which has a true individuality of its own, and into a system and order which it is difficult to look at as anything else than an organism, and which, even in England, we are now beginning to call by that name. And I fear that the ‘individuality’ (the particularness) which the child brought into the light with him, now stands but a poor chance, and that there is no help for him until he is old enough to become a ‘philosopher.’ We have seen that already he has in him inherited habits, or what will of themselves appear as such; but, in addition to this, he is not for one moment left alone, but continually tampered with; and the habituation which is applied from the outside is the more insidious that it answers to this inborn disposition. Who can resist it? Nay, who but a ‘thinker’ could wish to have resisted it? And yet the tender care that receives and guides him is impressing on him habits, habits, alas, not particular to himself, and the ‘icy chains’ of universal custom are hardening themselves round his cradled life. As the poet tells us, he has not yet thought of himself; his earliest notions come mixed to him of things and persons, not distinct from one another, nor divided from the feeling of his own existence. The need that he can not understand moves him to foolish, but not futile, cries for what only another can give him; and the breast of his mother, and the soft warmth and touches and tones of his nurse, are made one with the feeling of his own pleasure and pain; nor is he yet a moralist to beware of such illusion, and to see in them mere means to an end without them in his separate self. For he does not even think of his separate self; he grows with his world, his mind fills and orders itself; and when he can separate himself from that world, and know himself apart from it, then by that time his self, the object of his self-consciousness, is penetrated, infected, characterized by the existence of others. Its content implies in every fibre relations of community. He learns, or already perhaps has learnt, to speak, and here he appropriates the common heritage of his race, the tongue that he makes his own is his country’s language, it is (or it should be) the same that others speak, and it carries into his mind the ideas and sentiments of the race (over this I need not stay); and stamps them in indelibly. He grows up in an atmosphere of example and general custom, his life widens out from one little world to other and higher worlds, and he apprehends through successive stations the whole in which he lives, and in which he has lived. Is he now to try and develope his ‘individuality,’ his self which is not the same as other selves? Where is it? What is it? Where can he find it? The soul within him is saturated, is filled, is qualified by, it has assimilated, has got its substance, has built itself up from, it is one and the same life with the universal life, and if he turns against this he turns against himself; if he thrusts it from him, he tears his own vitals; if he attacks it, he sets his weapon against his own heart. He has found his life in the life of the whole, he lives that in himself, ‘he is a pulse-beat of the whole system, and himself the whole system.’
‘The child, in his character of the form of the possibility of a moral individual, is something subjective or negative; his growing to manhood is the ceasing to be of this form, and his education is the discipline or the compulsion thereof. The positive side and the essence is that he is suckled at the breast of the universal Ethos, lives in its absolute intuition, as in that of a foreign being first, then comprehends it more and more, and so passes over into the universal mind.’ The writer proceeds to draw the weighty conclusion that virtue ‘is not a troubling oneself about a peculiar and isolated morality of one’s own, that the striving for a positive morality of one’s own is futile, and in its very nature impossible of attainment; that in respect of morality the saying of the wisest men of antiquity is the only one which is true, that to be moral is to live in accordance with the moral tradition of one’s country; and in respect of education, the one true answer is that which a Pythagorean gave to him who asked what was the best education for his son, If you make him the citizen of a people with good institutions.’
But this is to anticipate.—So far, I think, without aid from metaphysics, we have seen that the ‘individual’ apart from the community is an abstraction. It is not anything real, and hence not anything that we can realize, however much we may wish to do so. We have seen that I am myself by sharing with others, by including in my essence relations to them, the relations of the social state. If I wish to realize my true being, I must therefore realize something beyond my being as a mere this or that; for my true being has in it a life which is not the life of any mere particular, and so must be called an universal life.
What is it then that I am to realize? We have said it in ‘my station and its duties.’ To know what a man is (as we have seen) you must not take him in isolation. He is one of a people, he was born in a family, he lives in a certain society, in a certain state. What he has to do depends on what his place is, what his function is, and that all comes from his station in the organism. Are there then such organisms in which he lives, and if so, what is their nature? Here we come to questions which must be answered in full by any complete system of Ethics, but which we can not enter on. We must content ourselves by pointing out that there are such facts as the family, then in a middle position a man’s own profession and society, and, over all, the larger community of the state. Leaving out of sight the question of a society wider than the state, we must say that a man’s life with its moral duties is in the main filled up by his station in that system of wholes which the state is, and that this, partly by its laws and institutions, and still more by its spirit, gives him the life which he does live and ought to live. That objective institutions exist is of course an obvious fact; and it is a fact which every day is becoming plainer that these institutions are organic, and further, that they are moral. The assertion that communities have been manufactured by the addition of exclusive units is, as we have seen, a mere fable; and if, within the state, we take that which seems wholly to depend on individual caprice, e.g. marriage, yet even here we find that a man does give up his self so far as it excludes others; he does bring himself under an unity which is superior to the particular person and the impulses that belong to his single existence, and which makes him fully as much as he makes it. In short, man is a social being; he is real only because he is social, and can realize himself only because it is as social that he realizes himself. The mere individual is a delusion of theory; and the attempt to realize it in practice is the starvation and mutilation of human nature, with total sterility or the production of monstrosities.
Let us now in detail compare the advantages of our present view with the defects of ‘duty for duty’s sake.’ The objections we found fatal to that view may be stated as follows:—(1) The universal was abstract. There was no content which belonged to it and was one with it; and the consequence was, that either nothing could be willed, or what was willed was willed not because of the universal, but capriciously. (2) The universal was ‘subjective.’ It certainly gave itself out as ‘objective,’ in the sense of being independent of this or that person, but still it was not real in the world. It did not come to us as what was, it came as what (merely) was to be, an inner notion in moral persons, which had not power to carry itself out and transform the world. And self-realization, if it means will, does mean that we put ourselves forth and see ourselves actual in outer existence. Hence, by identifying ourselves with that which has not this existence, which is not master of the outer world, we can not secure our self-realization; since, when we have identified ourselves with the end, the end may still remain a mere inner end which does not accomplish itself, and so does not satisfy us. (3) The universal left a part of ourselves outside it. However much we tried to be good, however determined we were to make our will one with the good will, yet we never succeeded. There was always something left in us which was in contradiction with the good. And this we saw was even necessary, because morality meant and implied this contradiction, unless we accepted that form of conscientiousness which consists in the simple identification of one’s conscience with one’s own self (unless, i.e., the consciousness of the relation of my private self to myself as the good self be degraded into my self-consciousness of my mere private self as the good self); and this can not be, if we are in earnest with morality. There thus remains a perpetual contradiction in myself, no less than in the world, between the ‘is to be’ and the ‘is,’ a contradiction that can not be got rid of without getting rid of morality; for, as we saw, it is inherent in morality. The man can not realize himself in himself as moral, because the conforming of his sensuous nature to the universal would be the entire suppression of it, and hence not only of himself, but also of the morality which is constituted by the relation of himself to the universal law. The man then can not find self-realization in the morality of pure duty; because (1) he can not look on his subjective self as the realized moral law; (2) he can not look on the objective world as the realization of the moral law; (3) he can not realize the moral law at all, because it is defined as that which has no particular content, and therefore no reality; or, if he gives it a content, then it is not the law he realizes, since the content is got not from the law, but from elsewhere. In short, duty for duty’s sake is an unsolved contradiction, the standing ‘is to be,’ which, therefore, because it is to be, is not; and in which, therefore, since it is not, he can not find himself realized nor satisfy himself.
These are serious defects: let us see how they are mended by ‘my station and its duties.’ In that (1) the universal is concrete; (2) it is objective; (3) it leaves nothing of us outside it.
(1) It is concrete, and yet not given by caprice. Let us take the latter first. It is not given by caprice; for, although within certain limits I may choose my station according to my own liking, yet I and every one else must have some station with duties pertaining to it, and those duties do not depend on our opinion or liking. Certain circumstances, a certain position, call for a certain course. How I in particular know what my right course is, is a question we shall recur to hereafter—but at present we may take it as an obvious fact that in my station my particular duties are prescribed to me, and I have them whether I wish to or not. And secondly, it is concrete. The universal to be realized is no abstraction, but an organic whole; a system where many spheres are subordinated to one sphere, and particular actions to spheres. This system is real in the detail of its functions, not out of them, and lives in its vital processes, not away from them. The organs are always at work for the whole, the whole is at work in the organs. And I am one of the organs. The universal then which I am to realize is the system which penetrates and subordinates to itself the particulars of all lives, and here and now in my life has this and that function in this and that case, in exercising which through my will it realizes itself as a whole, and me in it.
(2) It is ‘objective;’ and this means that it does not stand over against the outer world as mere ‘subject’ confronted by mere ‘object.’ In that sense of the words it is neither merely ‘objective’ nor merely ‘subjective;’ but it is that real identity of subject and object, which, as we have seen, is the only thing that satisfies our desires. The inner side does exist, but it is no more than the inside; it is one factor in the whole, and must not be separated from the other factor; and the mistake which is made by the morality which confines itself to the individual man, is just this attempt at the separation of what can not be separated. The inner side certainly is a fact, and it can be distinguished from the rest of the whole; but it really is one element of the whole, depends on the whole for its being, and can not be divided from it. Let us explain. The moral world, as we said, is a whole, and has two sides. There is an outer side, systems and institutions, from the family to the nation; this we may call the body of the moral world. And there must also be a soul, or else the body goes to pieces; every one knows that institutions without the spirit of them are dead. In the moral organism this spirit is in the will of the organs, as the will of the whole which, in and by the organs, carries out the organism and makes it alive, and which also (and this is the point to which attention is requested) is and must be felt or known in each organ as his own inward and personal will. It is quite clear that a nation is not strong without public spirit, and is not public-spirited unless the members of it are public-spirited, i.e. feel the good of the public as a personal matter, or have it at their hearts. The point here is that you can not have the moral world unless it is willed; that to be willed it must be willed by persons; and that these persons not only have the moral world as the content of their wills, but also must in some way be aware of themselves as willing this content. This being inwardly aware of oneself as willing the good will falls in the inside of the moral whole; we may call it the soul; and it is the sphere of personal morality, or morality in the narrower sense of the consciousness of the relation of my private self to the inwardly presented universal will, my being aware of and willing myself as one with that or contrary to that, as dutiful or bad. We must never let this out of our sight, that, where the moral world exists, you have and you must have these two sides; neither will stand apart from the other; moral institutions are carcasses without personal morality, and personal morality apart from moral institutions is an unreality, a soul without a body.
Now this inward, this ‘subjective,’ this personal side, this knowing in himself by the subject of the relation in which the will of him as this or that man stands to the will of the whole within him, or (as was rightly seen by ‘duty for duty’s sake’) this consciousness in the one subject of himself as two selves, is, as we said, necessary for all morality. But the form in which it is present may vary very much, and, beginning with the stage of mere feeling, goes on to that of explicit reflection. The reader who considers the matter will perceive that (whether in the life of mankind or of this or that man) we do not begin with a consciousness of good and evil, right and wrong, as such, or in the strict sense. The child is taught to will a content which is universal and good, and he learns to identify his will with it, so that he feels pleasure when he feels himself in accord with it, uneasiness or pain when his will is contrary thereto, and he feels that it is contrary. This is the beginning of personal morality, and from this we may pass to consider the end. That, so far as form went, was sufficiently exhibited in Essay IV. It consists in the explicit consciousness in myself of two elements which, even though they exist in disunion, are felt to be really one; these are myself as the will of this or that self, and again the universal will as the will for good; and this latter I feel to be my true self, and desire my other self to be subordinated to and so identified with it; in which case I feel the satisfaction of an inward realization. That so far as form goes is correct. But the important point on which ‘duty for duty’s sake’ utterly failed us was as to the content of the universal will. We have seen that for action this must have a content, and now we see where the content comes from. The universal side in personal morality is, in short, the reflection of the objective moral world into ourselves (or into itself). The outer universal which I have been taught to will as my will, and which I have grown to find myself in, is now presented by me inwardly to myself as the universal which is my true being, and which by my will I must realize, if need be, against my will as this or that man. So this inner universal has the same content as the outer universal, for it is the outer universal in another sphere; it is the inside of the outside. There was the whole system as an objective will, including my station, and realizing itself here and now in my function. Here is the same system presented as a will in me, standing above my will, which wills a certain act to be done by me as a will which is one with the universal will. This universal will is not a blank, but it is filled by the consideration of my station in the whole with reference to habitual and special acts. The ideal self appealed to by the moral man is an ideally presented will, in his position and circumstances, which rightly particularizes the general laws which answer to the general functions and system of spheres of the moral organism. That is the content, and therefore, as we saw, it is concrete and filled. And therefore also (which is equally important) it is not merely ‘subjective.’
If, on the inner side of the moral whole, the universal factor were (as in would-be morality it is) filled with a content which is not the detail of the objective will particularizing itself in such and such functions, then there would be no true identity of subject and object, no need why that which is moral should be that which is real, and we should never escape from a practical postulate, which, as we saw, is a practical standing contradiction. But if, as we have seen, the universal on the inside is the universal on the outside reflected in us, or (since we can not separate it and ourselves) into itself in us; if the objective will of the moral organism is real only in the will of its organs, and if, in willing morally, we will ourselves as that will, and that will wills itself in us,—then we must hold that this universal on the inner side is the will of the whole, which is self-conscious in us, and wills itself in us against the actual or possible opposition of the false private self. This being so, when we will morally, the will of the objective world wills itself in us, and carries both us and itself out into the world of the moral will, which is its own realm. We see thus that, when morals are looked at as a whole, the will of the inside, so far as it is moral, is the will of the outside, and the two are one and can not be torn apart without ipso facto destroying the unity in which morality consists. To be moral, I must will my station and its duties; that is, I will to particularize the moral system truly in a given case; and the other side to this act is, that the moral system wills to particularize itself in a given station and functions, i.e. in my actions and by my will. In other words, my moral self is not simply mine; it is not an inner which belongs simply to me; and further, it is not a mere inner at all, but it is the soul which animates the body and lives in it, and would not be the soul if it had not a body and its body. The objective organism, the systematized moral world, is the reality of the moral will; my duties on the inside answer to due functions on the outside. There is no need here for a pre-established or a postulated harmony, for the moral whole is the identity of both sides; my private choice, so far as I am moral, is the mere form of bestowing myself on and identifying myself with the will of the moral organism, which realizes in its process both itself and myself. Hence we see that what I have to do I have not to force on a recalcitrant world; I have to fill my place,—the place that waits for me to fill it; to make my private self the means, my life the sphere and the function of the soul of the whole, which thus, personal in me, externalizes both itself and me into a solid reality, which is both mine and its.
(3) What we come to now is the third superiority of ‘my station and its duties.’ The universal which is the end, and which we have seen is concrete and does realize itself, does also more. It gets rid of the contradiction between duty and the ‘empirical’ self; it does not in its realization leave me for ever outside and unrealized.
In ‘duty for duty’s sake’ we were always unsatisfied, no nearer our goal at the end than at the beginning. There we had the fixed antithesis of the sensuous self on one side, and a non-sensuous moral ideal on the other,—a standing contradiction which brought with it a perpetual self-deceit, or the depressing perpetual confession that I am not what I ought to be in my inner heart, and that I never can be so. Duty, we thus saw, was an infinite process, an unending ‘not-yet’; a continual ‘not’ with an everlasting ‘to be,’ or an abiding ‘to be’ with a ceaseless ‘not.’
From this last peevish enemy we are again delivered by ‘my station and its duties.’ There I realize myself morally, so that not only what ought to be in the world is, but I am what I ought to be, and find so my contentment and satisfaction. If this were not the case, when we consider that the ordinary moral man is self-contented and happy, we should be forced to accuse him of immorality, and we do not do this; we say he most likely might be better, but we do not say that he is bad, or need consider himself so. Why is this? It is because ‘my station and its duties’ teaches us to identify others and ourselves with the station we fill; to consider that as good, and by virtue of that to consider others and ourselves good too. It teaches us that a man who does his work in the world is good, notwithstanding his faults, if his faults do not prevent him from fulfilling his station. It tells us that the heart is an idle abstraction; we are not to think of it, nor must we look at our insides, but at our work and our life, and say to ourselves, Am I fulfilling my appointed function or not? Fulfil it we can, if we will: what we have to do is not so much better than the world that we can not do it; the world is there waiting for it; my duties are my rights. On the one hand, I am not likely to be much better than the world asks me to be; on the other hand, if I can take my place in the world I ought not to be discontented. Here we must not be misunderstood; we do not say that the false self, the habits and desires opposed to the good will, are extinguished. Though negated, they never are all of them entirely suppressed, and can not be. Hence we must not say that any man really does fill his station to the full height of his capacity; nor must we say of any man that he can not perform his function better than he does, for we all can do so, and should try to do so. We do not wish to deny what are plain moral facts, nor in any way to slur them over.
How then does the contradiction disappear? It disappears by my identifying myself with the good will that I realize in the world, by my refusing to identify myself with the bad will of my private self. So far as I am one with the good will, living as a member in the moral organism, I am to consider myself real, and I am not to consider the false self real. That can not be attributed to me in my character of member in the organism. Even in me the false existence of it has been partly suppressed by that organism; and, so far as the organism is concerned, it is wholly suppressed, because contradicted in its results, and allowed no reality. Hence, not existing for the organism, it does not exist for me as a member thereof; and only as a member thereof do I hold myself to be real. And yet this is not justification by faith, for we not only trust, but see, that despite our faults the moral world stands fast, and we in and by it. It is like faith, however, in this, that not merely by thinking ourselves, but by willing ourselves as such, can we look on ourselves as organs in a good whole, and so ourselves good. And further, the knowledge that as members of the system we are real, and not otherwise, encourages us more and more to identify ourselves with that system; to make ourselves better, and so more real, since we see that the good is real, and that nothing else is.
Or, to repeat it, in education my self by habituation has been growing into one with the good self around me, and by my free acceptance of my lot hereafter I consciously make myself one with the good, so that, though bad habits cling to and even arise in me, yet I can not but be aware of myself as the reality of the good will. That is my essential side; my imperfections are not, and practically they do not matter. The good will in the world realizes itself by and in imperfect instruments, and in spite of them. The work is done, and so long as I will my part of the work and do it (as I do), I feel that, if I perform the function, I am the organ, and that my faults, if they do not matter to my station, do not matter to me. My heart I am not to think of, except to tell by my work whether it is in my work, and one with the moral whole; and if that is so, I have the consciousness of absolute reality in the good because of and by myself, and in myself because of and through the good; and with that I am satisfied, and have no right to be dissatisfied.
The individual’s consciousness of himself is inseparable from the knowing himself as an organ of the whole; and the residuum falls more and more into the background, so that he thinks of it, if at all, not as himself, but as an idle appendage. For his nature now is not distinct from his ‘artificial self.’ He is related to the living moral system not as to a foreign body; his relation to it is ‘too inward even for faith,’ since faith implies a certain separation. It is no other-world that he can not see but must trust to: he feels himself in it, and it in him; in a word, the self-consciousness of himself is the self-consciousness of the whole in him, and his will is the will which sees in him its accomplishment by him; it is the free will which knows itself as the free will, and as this beholds its realization and is more than content.
The non-theoretical person, if he be not immoral, is at peace with reality; and the man who in any degree has made this point of view his own, becomes more and more reconciled to the world and to life, and the theories of ‘advanced thinkers’ come to him more and more as the thinnest and most miserable abstractions. He sees evils which can not discourage him, since they point to the strength of the life which can endure such parasites and flourish in spite of them. If the popularizing of superficial views inclines him to bitterness, he comforts himself when he sees that they live in the head, and but little, if at all, in the heart and life; that still at the push the doctrinaire and the quacksalver go to the wall, and that even that too is as it ought to be. He sees the true account of the state (which holds it to be neither mere force nor convention, but the moral organism, the real identity of might and right) unknown or ‘refuted,’ laughed at and despised, but he sees the state every day in its practice refute every other doctrine, and do with the moral approval of all what the explicit theory of scarcely one will morally justify. He sees instincts are better and stronger than so-called ‘principles.’ He sees in the hour of need what are called ‘rights’ laughed at, ‘freedom,’ the liberty to do what one pleases, trampled on, the claims of the individual trodden under foot, and theories burst like cobwebs. And he sees, as of old, the heart of a nation rise high and beat in the breast of each one of her citizens, till her safety and her honour are dearer to each than life, till to those who live her shame and sorrow, if such is allotted, outweigh their loss, and death seems a little thing to those who go for her to their common and nameless grave. And he knows that what is stronger than death is hate or love, hate here for love’s sake, and that love does not fear death, because already it is the death into life of what our philosophers tell us is the only life and reality.
Yes, the state is not put together, but it lives; it is not a heap nor a machine; it is no mere extravagance when a poet talks of a nation’s soul. It is the objective mind which is subjective and self-conscious in its citizens: it feels and knows itself in the heart of each. It speaks the word of command and gives the field of accomplishment, and in the activity of obedience it has and bestows individual life and satisfaction and happiness.
First in the community is the individual realized. He is here the embodiment of beauty, goodness, and truth: of truth, because he corresponds to his universal conception; of beauty, because he realizes it in a single form to the senses or imagination; of goodness, because his will expresses and is the will of the universal.
‘The realm of morality is nothing but the absolute spiritual unity of the essence of individuals, which exists in the independent reality of them. . . . The moral substance, looked at abstractedly from the mere side of its universality, is the law, and as this is only thought; but none the less is it, from another point of view, immediate real self-consciousness or custom: and conversely the individual exists as this single unit, in as much as it is conscious in its individuality of the universal consciousness as its own being, in as much as its action and existence are the universal Ethos. . . . They (the individuals) are aware in themselves that they possess this individual independent being because of the sacrifice of their individuality, because the universal substance is their soul and essence: and, on the other side, this universal is their individual action, the work that they as individuals have produced.
‘The merely individual action and business of the separate person is concerned with the needs he is subject to as a natural being, as an individuality which exists. That even these his commonest functions do not come to nothing, but possess reality, is effected solely by the universal maintaining medium, by the power of the whole people.—But it is not simply the form of persistence which the universal substance confers on his action; it gives also the content—what he does is the universal skill and custom of all. This content, just so far as it completely individualizes itself, is in its reality interlaced with the action of all. The work of the individual for his needs is a satisfaction of the needs of others as much as of his own; and he attains the satisfaction of his own only through the work of the others. The individual in his individual work thus accomplishes an universal work—he does so here unconsciously; but he also further accomplishes it as his conscious object: the whole as the whole is his work for which he sacrifices himself, and from which by that very sacrifice he gets again his self restored.—Here there is nothing taken which is not given, nothing wherein the independent individual, by and in the resolution of his atomic existence, by and in the negation of his self, fails to give himself the positive significance of a being which exists by and for itself. This unity—on the one side of the being for another, or the making oneself into an outward thing, and on the other side of the being for oneself—this universal substance speaks its universal language in the usages and laws of his people: and yet this unchanging essence is itself nought else than the expression of the single individuality, which seems at first sight its mere opposite; the laws pronounce nothing but what every one is and does. The individual recognizes the substance not only as his universal outward existence, but he recognizes also himself in it, particularized in his own individuality and in that of each of his fellow-citizens. And so in the universal mind each one has nothing but self-certainty, the assurance of finding in existing reality nothing but himself.—In all I contemplate independent beings, that are such, and are for themselves, only in the very same way that I am for myself; in them I see existing free unity of self with others, and existing by virtue of me and by virtue of the others alike. Them as myself, myself as them.
‘In a free people, therefore, reason is realized in truth; it is present living mind, and in this not only does the individual find his destination, i.e. his universal and singular essence, promulgated and ready to his hand as an outward existence, but he himself is this essence, and has also reached and fulfilled his destination. Hence the wisest men of antiquity have given judgment that wisdom and virtue consist in living agreeably to the Ethos of one’s people.’—(Hegel, ii. 256-8.)
Once let us take the point of view which regards the community as the real moral organism, which in its members knows and wills itself, and sees the individual to be real just so far as the universal self is in his self, as he in it, and we get the solution of most, if not all, of our previous difficulties. There is here no need to ask and by some scientific process find out what is moral, for morality exists all round us, and faces us, if need be, with a categorical imperative, while it surrounds us on the other side with an atmosphere of love.
The belief in this real moral organism is the one solution of ethical problems. It breaks down the antithesis of despotism and individualism; it denies them, while it preserves the truth of both. The truth of individualism is saved, because, unless we have intense life and self-consciousness in the members of the state, the whole state is ossified. The truth of despotism is saved, because, unless the member realizes the whole by and in himself, he fails to reach his own individuality. Considered in the main, the best communities are those which have the best men for their members, and the best men are the members of the best communities. Circle as this is, it is not a vicious circle. The two problems of the best man and best state are two sides, two distinguishable aspects of the one problem, how to realize in human nature the perfect unity of homogeneity and specification; and when we see that each of these without the other is unreal, then we see that (speaking in general) the welfare of the state and the welfare of its individuals are questions which it is mistaken and ruinous to separate. Personal morality and political and social institutions can not exist apart, and (in general) the better the one the better the other. The community is moral, because it realizes personal morality; personal morality is moral, because and in so far as it realizes the moral whole.
It is here we find an answer to the complaint of our day on the dwindling of human nature. The higher the organism (we are told), the more are its functions specified, and hence narrowed. The man becomes a machine, or the piece of a machine; and, though the world grows, ‘the individual withers.’ On this we may first remark that, if what is meant is that, the more centralized the system, the more narrow and monotonous is the life of the member, that is a very questionable assertion. If it be meant that the individual’s life can be narrowed to ‘file-packing,’ or the like, without detriment to the intensity of the life of the whole, that is even more questionable. If again it be meant that in many cases we have a one-sided specification, which, despite the immediate stimulus of particular function, implies ultimate loss of life to the body, that, I think, probably is so, but it is doubtful if we are compelled to think it always must be so. But the root of the whole complaint is a false view of things, which we have briefly noticed above (p. 73). The moral organism is not a mere animal organism. In the latter (it is no novel remark) the member is not aware of itself as such, while in the former it knows itself, and therefore knows the whole in itself. The narrow external function of the man is not the whole man. He has a life which we can not see with our eyes; and there is no duty so mean that it is not the realization of this, and knowable as such. What counts is not the visible outer work so much as the spirit in which it is done. The breadth of my life is not measured by the multitude of my pursuits, nor the space I take up amongst other men; but by the fulness of the whole life which I know as mine. It is true that less now depends on each of us, as this or that man; it is not true that our individuality is therefore lessened, that therefore we have less in us.
Let us now consider our point of view in relation to certain antagonistic ideas; and first against the common error that there is something ‘right in itself’ for me to do, in the sense that either there must be some absolute rule of morality the same for all persons without distinction of times and places, or else that all morality is ‘relative,’ and hence no morality. Let us begin by remarking that there is no such fixed code or rule of right. It is abundantly clear that the morality of one time is not that of another time, that the men considered good in one age might in another age not be thought good, that what would be right for us here might be mean and base in another country, and what would be wrong for us here might there be our bounden duty. This is clear fact, which is denied only in the interest of a foregone conclusion. The motive to deny it is the belief that it is fatal to morality. If what is right here is wrong there, then all morality (such is the notion) becomes chance and convention, and so ceases. But ‘my station and its duties’ holds that unless morals varied, there could be no morality; that a morality which was not relative would be futile, and I should have to ask for something ‘more relative than this.’
Let us explain. We hold that man is φύσει πολιτικός, that apart from the community he is θεὸς ἢ θηρίον, no man at all. We hold again that the true nature of man, the oneness of homogeneity and specification, is being wrought out in history; in short, we believe in evolution. The process of evolution is the humanizing of the bestial foundation of man’s nature by carrying out in it the true idea of man; in other words, by realizing man as an infinite whole (p. 68). This realization is possible only by the individual’s living as member in a higher life, and this higher life is slowly developed in a series of stages. Starting from and on the basis of animal nature, humanity has worked itself out by gradual advances of specification and systematization; and any other progress would, in the world we know, have been impossible. The notion that full-fledged moral ideas fell down from heaven is contrary to all the facts with which we are acquainted. If they had done so, it would have been for their own sake; for by us they certainly could not have been perceived, much less applied. At any given period to know more than he did, man must have been more than he was; for a human being is nothing if he is not the son of his time; and he must realize himself as that, or he will not do it at all.
Morality is ‘relative,’ but is none the less real. At every stage there is the solid fact of a world so far moralized. There is an objective morality in the accomplished will of the past and present, a higher self worked out by the infinite pain, the sweat and blood of generations, and now given to me by free grace and in love and faith as a sacred trust. It comes to me as the truth of my own nature, and the power and the law, which is stronger and higher than any caprice or opinion of my own.
‘Evolution,’ in this sense of the word, gives us over neither to chance nor alien necessity, for it is that self-realization which is the progressive conquest of both. But, on another understanding of the term, we can not help asking, Is this still the case, and is ‘my station’ a tenable point of view?
Wholly tenable, in the form in which we have stated it, it is not. For if, in saying Morality has developed, all we mean is that something has happened different from earlier events, that human society has changed, and that the alterations, so far as we know them, are more or less of a certain sort; if ‘progress’ signifies that an advance has been set going and is kept up by chance in an unknown direction; that the higher is, in short, what is and what before was not, and that what will be, of whatever sort it is, will still be a step in progress; if, in short, the movement of history towards a goal is mere illusion, and the stages of that movement are nothing but the successes of what from time to time somehow happens to be best suited to the chance of circumstances,—then it is clear in the first place that, teleology being banished, such words as evolution and progress have lost their own meaning, and that to speak of humanity realizing itself in history, and of myself finding in that movement the truth of myself worked out, would be simply to delude oneself with hollow phrases.
Thus far, we must say that on such a view of ‘developement’ the doctrine of ‘my station’ is grievously curtailed. But is it destroyed? Not wholly; though sorely mutilated, it still keeps its ground. We have rejected teleology, but have not yet embraced individualism. We still believe that the universal self is more than a collection or an idea, that it is reality, and that apart from it the ‘individuals’ are the fictions of a theory. We have still the fact of the one self particularized in its many members; and the right and duty of gaining self-realization through the real universal is still as certain as is the impossibility of gaining it otherwise. And so ‘my station’ is after all a position, not indeed satisfactory, but not yet untenable.
But if the larger doctrine be the truth, if evolution is more than a tortured phrase, and progress to a goal no mere idea but an actual fact, then history is the working out of the true human nature through various incomplete stages towards completion, and ‘my station’ is the one satisfactory view of morals. Here (as we have seen) all morality is and must be ‘relative,’ because the essence of realization is evolution through stages, and hence existence in some one stage which is not final; here, on the other hand, all morality is ‘absolute,’ because in every stage the essence of man is realized, however imperfectly; and yet again the distinction of right in itself against relative morality is not banished, because, from the point of view of a higher stage, we can see that lower stages failed to realize the truth completely enough, and also, mixed and one with their realization, did present features contrary to the true nature of man as we now see it. Yet herein the morality of every stage is justified for that stage; and the demand for a code of right in itself, apart from any stage, is seen to be the asking for an impossibility.
The next point we come to is the question, How do I get to know in particular what is right and wrong? and here again we find a strangely erroneous preconception. It is thought that moral philosophy has to accomplish this task for us; and the conclusion lies near at hand, that any system which will not do this is worthless. Well, we first remark, and with some confidence, that there can not be a moral philosophy which will tell us what in particular we are to do, and also that it is not the business of philosophy to do so. All philosophy has to do is ‘to understand what is,’ and moral philosophy has to understand morals which exist, not to make them or give directions for making them. Such a notion is simply ludicrous. Philosophy in general has not to anticipate the discoveries of the particular sciences nor the evolution of history; the philosophy of religion has not to make a new religion or teach an old one, but simply to understand the religious consciousness; and aesthetic has not to produce works of fine art, but to theorize the beautiful which it finds; political philosophy has not to play tricks with the state, but to understand it; and ethics has not to make the world moral, but to reduce to theory the morality current in the world. If we want it to do anything more, so much the worse for us; for it can not possibly construct new morality, and, even if it could to any extent codify what exists (a point on which I do not enter), yet it surely is clear that in cases of collision of duties it would not help you to know what to do. Who would go to a learned theologian, as such, in a practical religious difficulty; to a system of aesthetic for suggestions on the handling of an artistic theme; to a physiologist, as such, for a diagnosis and prescription; to a political philosopher in practical politics; or to a psychologist in an intrigue of any kind? All these persons no doubt might be the best to go to, but that would not be because they were the best theorists, but because they were more. In short, the view which thinks moral philosophy is to supply us with particular moral prescriptions confuses science with art, and confuses, besides, reflective with intuitive judgment. That which tells us what in particular is right and wrong is not reflection but intuition.
We know what is right in a particular case by what we may call an immediate judgment, or an intuitive subsumption. These phrases are perhaps not very luminous, and the matter of the ‘intuitive understanding’ in general is doubtless difficult, and the special character of moral judgments not easy to define; and I do not say that I am in a position to explain these subjects at all, nor, I think, could any one do so, except at considerable length. But the point that I do wish to establish here is, I think, not at all obscure. The reader has first to recognize that moral judgments are not discursive; next, that nevertheless they do start from and rest on a certain basis; and then if he puts the two together, he will see that they involve what he may call the ‘intuitive understanding,’ or any other name, so long as he keeps in sight the two elements and holds them together.
On the head that moral judgments are not discursive, no one, I think, will wish me to stay long. If the reader attends to the facts he will not want anything else; and if he does not, I confess I can not prove my point. In practical morality no doubt we may reflect on our principles, but I think it is not too much to say that we never do so, except where we have come upon a difficulty of particular application. If any one thinks that a man’s ordinary judgment, ‘this is right or wrong,’ comes from the having a rule before the mind and bringing the particular case under it, he may be right; and I can not try to show that he is wrong. I can only leave it to the reader to judge for himself. We say we ‘see’ and we ‘feel’ in these cases, not we ‘conclude.’ We prize the advice of persons who can give us no reasons for what they say. There is a general belief that the having a reason for all your actions is pedantic and absurd. There is a general belief that to try to have reasons for all that you do is sometimes very dangerous. Not only the woman but the man who deliberates may be lost. First thoughts are often the best, and if once you begin to argue with the devil you are in a perilous state. And I think I may add (though I do it in fear) that women are remarkable for the fineness of their moral perceptions and the quickness of their judgments, and yet are or (let me save myself by saying) ‘may be’ not remarkable for corresponding discursive ability.
Taking for granted then that our ordinary way of judging in morals is not by reflection and explicit reasoning, we have now to point to the other side of the fact, viz. that these judgments are not mere isolated impressions, but stand in an intimate and vital relation to a certain system, which is their basis. Here again we must ask the reader to pause, if in doubt, and consider the facts for himself. Different men, who have lived in different times and countries, judge a fresh case in morals differently. Why is this? There is probably no ‘why’ before the mind of either when he judges; but we perhaps can say, ‘I know why A said so and B so,’ because we find some general rule or principle different in each, and in each the basis of the judgment. Different people in the same society may judge points differently, and we sometimes know why. It is because A is struck by one aspect of the case, B by another; and one principle is (not before, but) in A’s mind when he judges, and another in B’s. Each has subsumed, but under a different head; the one perhaps justice, the other gratitude. Every man has the morality he has made his own in his mind, and he ‘sees’ or ‘feels’ or ‘judges’ accordingly, though he does not reason explicitly from data to a conclusion.
I think this will be clear to the reader; and so we must say that on their perceptive or intellectual side (and that, the reader must not forget, is the one side that we are considering) our moral judgments are intuitive subsumptions.
To the question, How am I to know what is right? the answer must be, By the αἴσθησις of the φρόνιμος; and the φρόνιμος is the man who has identified his will with the moral spirit of the community, and judges accordingly. If an immoral course be suggested to him, he ‘feels’ or ‘sees’ at once that the act is not in harmony with a good will, and he does not do this by saying, ‘this is a breach of rule A, therefore, &c.’; but the first thing he is aware of is that he ‘does not like it’; and what he has done, without being aware of it, is (at least in most cases) to seize the quality of the act, that quality being a general quality. Actions of a particular kind he does not like, and he has instinctively referred the particular act to that kind. What is right is perceived in the same way; courses suggest themselves, and one is approved of, because intuitively judged to be of a certain kind, which kind represents a principle of the good will.
If a man is to know what is right, he should have imbibed by precept, and still more by example, the spirit of his community, its general and special beliefs as to right and wrong, and, with this whole embodied in his mind, should particularize it in any new case, not by a reflective deduction, but by an intuitive subsumption, which does not know that it is a subsumption; by a carrying out of the self into a new case wherein what is before the mind is the case and not the self to be carried out, and where it is indeed the whole that feels and sees, but all that is seen is seen in the form of this case, this point, this instance. Precept is good, but example is better; for by a series of particulars (as such forgotten) we get the general spirit, we identify ourselves both on the side of will and judgment with the basis, which basis (be it remembered) has not got to be explicit.
There are a number of questions which invite consideration  here, but we can not stop. We wished to point out briefly the character of our common moral judgments. This (on the intellectual side) is the way in which they are ordinarily made; and, in the main, there is not much practical difficulty. What is moral in any particular given case is seldom doubtful. Society pronounces beforehand; or, after some one course has been taken, it can say whether it was right or not; though society can not generalize much, and, if asked to reflect, is helpless and becomes incoherent. But I do not say there are no cases where the morally minded man has to doubt; most certainly such do arise, though not so many as some people think, far fewer than some would be glad to think. A very large number arise from reflection, which wants to act from an explicit principle, and so begins to abstract and divide, and, thus becoming one-sided, makes the relative absolute. Apart from this, however, collisions must take place; and here there is no guide whatever but the intuitive judgment of oneself or others.
This intuition must not be confounded with what is sometimes mis-called ‘conscience.’ It is not mere individual opinion or caprice. It presupposes the morality of the community as its basis, and is subject to the approval thereof. Here, if anywhere, the idea of universal and impersonal morality is realized. For the final arbiters are the φρόνιμος, persons with a will to do right, and not full of reflections and theories. If they fail you, you must judge for yourself, but practically they seldom do fail you. Their private peculiarities neutralize each other, and the result is an intuition which does not belong merely to this or that man or collection of men. ‘Conscience’ is the antipodes of this. It wants you to have no law but yourself, and to be better than the world. But this tells you that, if you could be as good as your world, you would be better than most likely you are, and that to wish to be better than the world is to be already on the threshold of immorality.
This perhaps ‘is a hard saying,’ but it is least hard to those who know life best; it is intolerable to those mainly who, from inexperience or preconceived theories, can not see the world as it is. Explained it may be by saying that enthusiasm for good dies away—the ideal fades—
|Dem Herrlichsten, was auch der Geist empfangen,|
Drängt immer fremd und fremder Stoff sich an ;
Let us be clear. What is that wish to be better, and to make the world better, which is on the threshold of immorality? What is the ‘world’ in this sense? It is the morality already existing ready to hand in laws, institutions, social usages, moral opinions and feelings. This is the element in which the young are brought up. It has given moral content to themselves, and it is the only source of such content. It is not wrong, it is a duty, to take the best that there is, and to live up to the best. It is not wrong, it is a duty, standing on the basis of the existing, and in harmony with its general spirit, to try and make not only oneself but also the world better, or rather, and in preference, one’s own world better. But it is another thing, starting from oneself, from ideals in one’s head, to set oneself and them against the moral world. The moral world with its social institutions &c. is a fact; it is real; our ‘ideals’ are not real. ‘But we will make them real.’ We should consider what we are, and what the world is. We should learn to see the great moral fact in the world, and to reflect on the likelihood of our private ‘ideal’ being anything more than an abstraction, which, because an abstraction, is all the better fitted for our heads, and all the worse fitted for actual existence.
We should consider whether the encouraging oneself in having opinions of one’s own, in the sense of thinking differently from the world on moral subjects, be not, in any person other than a heaven-born prophet, sheer self-conceit. And though the disease may spend itself in the harmless and even entertaining sillinesses by which we are advised to assert our social ‘individuality,’ yet still the having theories of one’s own in the face of the world is not far from having practice in the same direction; and if the latter is (as it often must be) immorality, the former has certainly but stopped at the threshold.
But the moral organism is strong against both. The person anxious to throw off the yoke of custom and develope his ‘individuality’ in startling directions, passes as a rule into the common Philistine, and learns that Philistinism is after all a good thing. And the licentious young man, anxious for pleasure at any price, who, without troubling himself about ‘principles,’ does put into practice the principles of the former person, finds after all that the self within him can be satisfied only with that from whence it came. And some fine morning the dream is gone, the enchanted bower is a hideous phantasm, and the despised and common reality has become the ideal.
We have thus seen the community to be the real moral idea, to be stronger than the theories and the practice of its members against it, and to give us self-realization. And this is indeed limitation; it bids us say farewell to visions of superhuman morality, to ideal societies, and to practical ‘ideals’ generally. But perhaps the unlimited is not the perfect, nor the true ideal. And, leaving ‘ideals’ out of sight, it is quite clear that if anybody wants to realize himself as a perfect man without trying to be a perfect member of his country and all his smaller communities, he makes what all sane persons would admit to be a great mistake. There is no more fatal enemy than theories which are not also facts; and when people inveigh against the vulgar antithesis of the two, they themselves should accept their own doctrine, and give up the harbouring of theories of what should be and is not. Until they do that, the vulgar are in the right; for a theory of that which (only) is to be, is a theory of that which in fact is not, and that I suppose is only a theory.
There is nothing better than my station and its duties, nor anything higher or more truly beautiful. It holds and will hold its own against the worship of the ‘individual,’ whatever form that may take. It is strong against frantic theories and vehement passions, and in the end it triumphs over the fact and can smile at the literature, even of sentimentalism, however fulsome in its impulsive setting out, or sour in its disappointed end. It laughs at its frenzied apotheosis of the yet unsatisfied passion it calls love; and at that embitterment too which has lost its illusions, and yet can not let them go—with its kindness for the genius too clever in general to do anything in particular, and its adoration of stargazing virgins with souls above their spheres, whose wish to be something in the world takes the form of wanting to do something with it, and who in the end do badly what they might have done in the beginning well; and, worse than all, its cynical contempt for what deserves only pity, sacrifice of a life for work to the best of one’s lights, a sacrifice despised not simply because it has failed, but because it is stupid, and uninteresting, and altogether unsentimental.
And all these books (ah! how many) it puts into the one scale, and with them the writers of them; and into the other scale it puts three such lines as these:
|“One place performs like any other place|
The proper service every place on earth
Was framed to furnish man with” ——
κόκκυ, μεθεῖτε· καὶ πολύ γε κατωτέρω
χωρεῖ τὸ τοῦδε
Have we still to ask,
καὶ τί ποτ' ἐστὶ ταἴτιον;
The theory which we have just exhibited (more or less in our own way), and over which perhaps we have heated ourselves a little, seems to us a great advance on anything we have had before, and indeed in the main to be satisfactory. It satisfies us, because in it our wills attain their realization; the content of the will is a whole, is systematic; and it is the same whole on both sides. On the outside and inside alike we have the same universal will in union with the particular personality; and in the identity of inside and outside in one single process we have reached the point where the ‘is to be,’ with all its contradictions, disappears, or remains but as a moment in a higher ‘is.’
None the less, however, must we consider this satisfaction neither ultimate, nor all-inclusive, nor anything but precarious. If put forth as that beyond which we do not need to go, as the end in itself, it is open to very serious objections, some of which we must now develope.
The point upon which ‘my station and its duties’ prided itself most, was that it had got rid of the opposition of ‘ought’ and ‘is’ in both its forms; viz. the opposition of the outer world to the ‘ought’ in me, and the opposition of my particular self to the ‘ought’ in general. We shall have to see that it has not succeeded in doing either, or at least not completely.
1. Within the sphere of my station and its duties the opposition is not vanquished; for,
(a) It is impossible to maintain the doctrine of what may be called ‘justification by sight.’ The self can not be so seen to be identified with the moral whole that the bad self disappears, (i) In the moral man the consciousness of that unity can not be present always, but only when he is fully engaged in satisfactory work. Then, I think, it is present: but when he is not so engaged, and the bad self shows itself, he can scarcely be self-contented, or, if he is so, scarcely because he sees that the bad self is unreal. He can only forget his faults when he is too busy to think of them; and he can hardly be so always. And he can not always see that his faults do not matter to the moral order of things: when it comes to that he can only trust. Further, (ii) the more or less immoral man who, because of past offences, is now unable to perform his due function, or to perform it duly, can not always in his work gain once more the self-content he has lost; because that very work tells him of what should have been, and now is not and will not be: and the habits he has formed perhaps drag him still into the faults that made them. We can not, without taking a low point of view, ask that this man’s life, morally considered, should be more than a struggle; and it would be the most untrue Pharisaism or indifferentism to call him immoral because he struggles, and so far as he struggles. Here justification by sight is out of the question.
(b) Again, the moral man need not find himself realized in the world, (i) It is necessary to remark that the community in which he is a member may be in a confused or rotten condition, so that in it right and might do not always go together. And (ii) the very best community can only ensure that correspondence in the gross; it can not do so in every single detail, (iii) There are afflictions for which no moral organism has balm or physician, though it has alleviation; and these can mar the life of any man. (iv) The member may have to sacrifice himself for the community.—In none of these cases can he see his realization; and here again the contradiction breaks out, and we must wrap ourselves in a virtue which is our own and not the world’s, or seek a higher doctrine by which, through faith and through faith alone, self-suppression issues in a higher self-realization.
2. Within the sphere of my station and its duties we see the contradiction is but partially solved: and the second objection is also very serious. You can not confine a man to his station and its duties. Whether in another sense that formula would be all embracing is a further question: but in the sense in which we took it, function in a ‘visible’ community, it certainly is not so. And we must remark here in passing that, if we accept (as I think we must) the fact that the essence of a man involves identity with others, the question what the final reality of that identity is, is still left unanswered: we should still have to ask what is the higher whole in which the individual is a function, and in which the relative wholes subsist, and to enquire whether that community is, or can be, a visible community at all.
Passing by this, however, let us develope our objection. A man can not take his morality simply from the moral world he is in, for many reasons, (a) That moral world, being in a state of historical developement, is not and can not be self-consistent; and the man must thus stand before and above inconsistencies, and reflect on them. This must lead to the knowledge that the world is not altogether as it should be, and to a process of trying to make it better. With this co-operates (b) what may be called cosmopolitan morality. Men nowadays know to some extent what is thought right and wrong in other communities now, and what has been thought at other times; and this leads to a notion of goodness not of any particular time and country. For numbers of persons no doubt this is unnecessary; but it is necessary for others, and they have the moral ideal (with the psychological origin of which we are not concerned) of a good man who is not good as member of this or that community, but who realizes himself in whatever community he finds himself. This, however, must mean also that he is not perfectly realized in any particular station.
3. We have seen that the moral man can to a certain extent distinguish his moral essence from his particular function; and now a third objection at once follows, that the content of the ideal self does not fall wholly within any community, is in short not merely the ideal of a perfect social being. The making myself better does not always directly involve relation to others. The production of truth and beauty (together with what is called ‘culture’) may be recognized as a duty; and it will be very hard to reduce it in all cases to a duty of any station that I can see. If we like to say that these duties to myself are duties to humanity, that perhaps is true; but we must remember that humanity is not a visible community. If you mean by it only past, present, and future human beings, then you can not show that in all cases my culture is of use (directly or indirectly) to any one but myself. Unless you are prepared to restrict science and fine art to what is useful, i.e. to common arts and ‘accomplishments,’ you can not hope to ‘verify’ such an assertion. You are in the region of belief, not knowledge; and this equally whether your belief is true or false. We must say then that, in aiming at truth and beauty, we are trying to realize ourself not as a member of any visible community.
And, finally, against this ideal self the particular person remains and must remain imperfect. The ideal self is not fully realized in us, in any way that we can see. We are aware of a ceaseless process, it is well if we can add progress, in which the false private self is constantly subdued but never disappears. And it never can disappear: we are never realized. The contradiction remains; and not to feel it demands something lower or something higher than a moral point of view.
Starting from these objections, our next Essay must try to make more clear what is involved in them, and to raise in a sharper form the difficulties as to the nature of morality. And our Concluding Remarks will again take up the same thread, after we have in some measure investigated in Essay VII. the difficult problems of the bad self and selfishness.
- Even from Mr. Mill (in controversy) we can quote, ‘If every general conception, instead of being “the One in the Many,” were considered to be as many different conceptions as there are things to which it is applicable, there would be no such thing as general language.’—Logic, i. 201, ed. vi.
- Hegel, i. 389.
- Marriage is a contract, a contract to pass out of the sphere of contract; and this is possible only because the contracting parties are already beyond and above the sphere of mere contract.
- On this point see more in Essay VII.
- Let me illustrate from our great poet:—
So they loved, as love in twain
Had the essence but in one ;
Two distincts, division none :
Number there in love was slain.
Hearts remote yet not asunder ;
Distance, and no space was seen——
So between them love did shine. . . .
Either was the other’s mine.
Property was thus appalled,
That the self was not the same ;
Single nature’s double name
Neither two nor one was called.
Reason, in itself confounded,
Saw division grow together :
To themselves yet either neither
Simple were so well compounded,
That it cried, How true a twain
Seemeth this concordant one !
Love hath reason, reason none,
If what parts can so remain.
—(The Phœnix and the Turtle.)
Surely philosophy does not reach its end till the ‘reason of reason’ is adequate to the ‘reason of love.’
- With respect to ‘evolution’ I may remark in passing that, though this word may of course be used to stand for anything whatever, yet for all that it has a meaning of its own, which those who care to use words, not merely with a meaning, but also with their meaning, would do well to consider. To try to exhibit all that is contained in it would be a serious matter, but we may call attention to a part. And first, ‘evolution,’ ‘developement,’ ‘progress,’ all imply something identical throughout, a subject of the evolution, which is one and the same. If what is there at the beginning is not there at the end, and the same as what was there at the beginning, then evolution is a word with no meaning. Something must evolve itself, and that something, which is the end, must also be the beginning. It must be what moves itself to the end, and must be the end which is the ‘because’ of the motion. Evolution must evolve itself to itself, progress itself go forward to a goal which is itself, developement bring out nothing but what was in, and bring it out, not from external compulsion, but because it is in.
And further, unless what is at the end is different from that which was at the beginning, there is no evolution. That which developes, or evolves itself, both is and is not. It is, or it could not be it which developes, and which at the end has developed. It is not, or else it could not become. It becomes what it is; and, if this is nonsense, then evolution is nonsense.
Evolution is a contradiction; and, when the contradiction ceases, the evolution ceases. The process is a contradiction, and only because it is a contradiction can it be a process. So long as progress lasts, contradiction lasts; so long as anything becomes, it is not. To be realized is to cease to progress. To be at the end (in one sense) is to lose the end (in another), and that because (in both senses) all then comes to the end. For the process is a contradiction, and the solution of the contradiction is in every sense the end of the process.
- I must ask the reader here not to think of ‘Intuitionalism,’ or of ‘Organs of the Absolute,’ or of anything else of the sort. ‘Intuitive’ is used here as the opposite of ‘reflective’ or ‘discursive,’ ‘intuition’ as the opposite of ‘reasoning’ or ‘explicit inferring.’ If the reader dislike the word, he may substitute ‘perception’ or ‘sense,’ if he will; but then he must remember that neither are to exclude the intellectual, the understanding and its implicit judgments and inferences.
- It is right to remark that second thoughts are often the offspring of wrong desire, but not always so. They may arise from collisions, and in these cases we see how little is to be done by theoretical deduction.
- Not, perhaps, on all matters. Nor, again, will it do to say that everywhere women are pre-eminently intuitive, and men discursive. But in practical matters there seems not much doubt that it is so.
- Every act has, of course, many sides, many relations, many ‘points of view from which it may be regarded,’ and so many qualities. There are always several principles under which you can bring it, and hence there is not the smallest difficulty in exhibiting it as the realization of either right or wrong. No act in the world is without some side capable of being subsumed under a good rule; e.g. theft is economy, care for one’s relations, protest against bad institutions, really doing oneself but justice, &c.; and, if all else fails, it probably saves us from something worse, and therefore is good. Cowardice is prudence and a duty, courage rashness and a vice, and so on. The casuist must have little ingenuity, if there is anything he fails to justify or condemn according to his order. And the vice of casuistry is that, attempting to decide the particulars of morality by the deductions of the reflective understanding, it at once degenerates into finding a good reason for what you mean to do. You have principles of all sorts, and the case has all sorts of sides; which side is the essential side, and which principle is the principle here, rests in the end on your mere private choice; and that is determined by heaven knows what. No reasoning will tell you which the moral point of view here is. Hence the necessary immorality and the ruinous effects of practical casuistry. (Casuistry used not as a guide to conduct, but as a means to the theoretical investigation of moral principles, the casuistry used to discover the principle from the fact, and not to deduce the fact from the principle—is, of course, quite another thing.) Our moralists do not like casuistry; but if the current notion that moral philosophy has to tell you what to do is well founded, then casuistry, so far as I can see, at once follows, or should follow.
But the ordinary moral judgment is not discursive. It does not look to the right and left, and, considering the case from all its sides, consciously subsume under one principle. When the case is presented, it fixes on one quality in the act, referring that unconsciously to one principle, in which it feels the whole of itself, and sees that whole in a single side of the act. So far as right and wrong are concerned, it can perceive nothing but this quality of this case, and anything else it refuses to try to perceive. Practical morality means single-mindedness, the having one idea; it means what in other spheres would be the greatest narrowness. Point out to a man of simple morals that the case has other sides than the one he instinctively fixes on, and he suspects you wish to corrupt him. And so you probably would if you went on. Apart from bad example, the readiest way to debauch the morality of any one is, on the side of principle, to confuse them by forcing them to see in all moral and immoral acts other sides and points of view, which alter the character of each; and, on the side of particulars, to warp their instinctive apprehension through personal affection for yourself or some other individual.
- It is worth while in this connection to refer to the custom some persons have (and find useful) of calling before the mind, when in doubt, a known person of high character and quick judgment, and thinking what they would have done. This no doubt both delivers the mind from private considerations and also is to act in the spirit of the other person (so far as we know it), i.e. from the general basis of his acts (certainly not the mere memory of his particular acts, or such memory plus inference).
- One of these would be as to how progress in morality is made.
- I may remark on this (after Erdmann, and I suppose Plato) that collisions of duties are avoided mostly by each man keeping to his own immediate duties, and not trying to see from the point of view of other stations than his own.
- Arist. Frogs, 1384. Dionysos.—Cuckoo! Let go the scales; Aeschylos’ side goes down, oh, much much the lowest. Euripides.—Why, what ever is the reason?