Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/230

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

ing that ethics is a regulated compromise between egoism and altruism. What remains is to consider the possibility of an ultimate conciliation. The position at present being that egoism is too strong or altruism too weak, the conciliation must work by finding some means of strengthening the altruistic promptings. Mr. Spencer sees in the tendencies of evolution a progress in this direction. In an interesting dissertation on the sources of sympathy, he endeavors to point out that the faculty admits of development in two ways, viz., the natural language or expression of the feelings, and the susceptibility to that expression as witnessed. He expects such an increase in these two powers as to reverse the predominance of egoism, and to make altruism the prevalent fact of our constitution in minds generally, as it is at present in a few. There will then be as much competition in rendering services as there is at present in exacting them. Indeed, the difficulty will be to find scope for the altruistic cravings. The spheres finally remaining will be chiefly (1) family life, in which the care of children by parents and of parents by children will be better fulfilled, (2) social welfare, in the improvements of the social state, and (3) private relations, where the casualties of life will always afford occasion for help to the sufferers. "Far off as seems such a state, yet every one of the factors counted on to produce it may already be traced in operation among those of highest natures. What now in them is occasional and feeble, may be expected with further evolution to become habitual and strong; and what now characterizes the exceptionally high may be expected eventually to characterize all. For that which the best human nature is capable of is within the reach of human nature at large."

In a chapter entitled "Absolute and Relative Ethics," Mr. Spencer defines absolute ethics as formulating the normal conduct for an ideal society, such as we shall have in the future, and relative ethics as the science that interprets the phenomena of existing societies in their transitional states, laboring under the miseries of non-adaptation. The coexistence of a perfect man and imperfect society is impossible; and, could the two coexist, the resulting conduct would not furnish the ethical standard sought. Among people that are treacherous and without scruple, entire truthfulness and openness must bring ruin. "Hence it is manifest that we must consider the ideal man as existing in the ideal social state. On the evolution hypothesis, the two presuppose one another; and only when they coexist can there exist that ideal conduct which absolute ethics has to formulate, and which relative ethics has to take as the standard by which to estimate divergences from right, or degrees of wrong."

The final chapter—"The Scope of Ethics"—is the summary and outcome of the whole, and offers the easiest means of comparing the author's point of view with the prevailing theories. The ethics of personal conduct is the best defined of all, from the requirements being so largely affiliated upon physical necessities. If this ethics could be