Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/580

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one to be found, which has been equally active in the whole arena of industrial and commercial intercourse. This is the constant multiplication of intervening agents—middle-men, factors, brokers, speculators, contractors, and distributors of every sort—between the producer and the consumer, or between the primary owner and the ultimate owner of almost everything which is the subject of ownership and trade. Those two, who are the actual persons brought chiefly into relationship by the thing in question, are put quite out of sight of one another in most of the transactions of modern industry and commerce; and it is easy to see how much more energy in the forming of a notion of right is required to preserve the integrity of the line of conduct between them, through indirect dealings like these.

The truth, then, seems to be that the civilizing process in society has, thus far, had two quite contrary moral effects: one, to cultivate and quicken in men the intelligence which apprehends their relations to one another, and which perceives a right line in all the conduct that is incident to those relations; the other, to complicate and obscure one prominent group of such relations, and to make the apprehension of them more difficult. If the former effect has not yet overcome the latter, in that sphere of conduct where the conflict between them is greatest, there is nothing to wonder at in the fact. It is quite according to the nature of our moral cognitions that men should sooner learn not to steal than not to cheat: because stealing is an assault direct upon that fact of possession which we have seen to be at the bottom of the idea of a right of property; whereas cheating takes most of its suggestions from the absence of that fact. It is certain that civilization has diminished downright robbery, depredation, theft, and not so much by its police, nor by the force of its penal laws, as by cultivating the notion of right conduct which condemns them. If it has not yet curtailed the devices of fraud, and if men make dishonest use of the knowledge and the skill that they have gained in every art, even more, perhaps, than their fathers used the scantier methods of fraud which they knew, the reason seems to be explained, and I can find nothing in the fact to argue against a final ripening of moral fruits in this region of human conduct, as well as in the rest.

"But what then?" every reader will ask. "Is it enough to account in this way for our notions of right? Is it enough to satisfy ourselves that they are formed like our mathematical notions, by the same faculties, in the same way, and that they have the same intellectual genesis? Is there not something more which this doctrine leaves still unexplained?—that something which distinguishes a moral notion from every other that is formed in the human mind; that something in it which is mandatory and urgent; that something which we call conscience, sense of duty, obligation? "I say. Yes; there certainly is something involved in morals beyond the knowledge of right and wrong; some kind of a force, or some kind of a law of feeling in man,