Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/671

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FIRES AND THEIR CAUSES.

has in deciding as to what is right and what is wrong. A lawyer may have pronounced upon certain common points of law so frequently that when a case is presented he does not stop to think, but gives answer immediately, yet one would not say that he acts intuitively. So in what might be called the grosser matters of morals the judgment is able to act quickly from frequent exercise, but, when it comes to the nicer distinctions of ethics, so far from acting intuitively or quickly, the mind is often in long and painful doubt. To tell the truth seems to be a plain duty, yet who would dare to condemn Sister Surplice's lie in defense of poor Jean Valjean? "Thou shalt not steal" is human and divine law, but shall a man starve rather than take a loaf of bread that does not belong to him? When does manslaughter in self-defense become justifiable? The relative duties to God, to self, and society, to family and friendship, require much weighing of motive, and evidence, and interests, which, so far from being settled intuitively, call for the most careful exercise of judgment.

The limits of time and space forbid a further discussion of this subject beyond the following summary of conclusions:

1. That examination of minds nearest to primitive conditions shows that there is an utter absence of moral feeling, and that therefore conscience is not a congenital faculty.

2. That the idea of duty is an abstraction, which comes with considerable development of mind and a power of generalization of which the lower races are not capable.

3. That what is called "conscience" is simply an act of judgment and reason.

4. That the decisions of conscience depend upon the education of die individual; and—

5. That therefore conscience, even among intellectually developed races, is not an infallible guide, but must itself be guided by a written law.

 

FIRES AND THEIR CAUSES.

THE oft-repeated words, "Cause unknown," appended to the daily reports of the conflagrations which occur all over the country, furnish matter for grave reflection. A glance at the report of one of the largest fire brigades will show us that the causes (when ascertained) are of the most varied description. It appears that the candle is the most destructive weapon to be found in an ordinary household, for conflagrations lighted by its help far outnumber those credited to any other cause. Curtains come next on the black list. The next large figures are given to "Spark from fire," followed by "Foul flues." Next in order may be noticed "Gas," "Children playing with fire,"