Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/867

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845
EDITOR'S TABLE.

should have to say that combustion is a natural process of which men knew a great deal that was true and indispensable long before science appeared. What science did was simply to develop, step by step, the pre-existing common knowledge upon the subject into a more complete, accurate, and methodical form. So also with morality, or the phenomena of human conduct, in respect to its quality of right and wrong. Much was known about it that was true, practical, and essential to human society before science was ever dreamed of. But the early knowledge was imperfect, and required to be improved and made more clear and systematic by the establishment of principles, as has been the case with other forms of knowledge that have gradually grown into science. There was never any "new basis" in this process of growth. Practical morality has always been grounded in nature and in common experience—has always, to some extent, recognized the right and wrong of human conduct as determined by the known consequences of human actions. Scientific morality was never something to be "found" or done without; it was an inevitable stage in the development of thought and a part of the great modern movement of the study of the order of nature. The problem has not been to find a new thing to replace an old one, but to make the old one better. The problem of our time has come to be to determine the bearing of the later and more highly developed sciences upon the improvement or progress of ethics.

Professor Smith believes that owing to the great advances of modern thought there is a loosening of old bonds and a great peril to morality. He says: "Science, in combination with historical philosophy and literary criticism, is breaking up religious beliefs; and the break-up of religious beliefs is attended, as experience seems to show, with danger to popular morality." Twenty-five years ago Herbert Spencer foresaw the emergency that Professor Smith declares has now arisen, and, adopting what Professor Smith considers to be the "unspeakably momentous" principle of evolution for his guide, gave himself entirely to the mastering and reconstruction of those divisions of knowledge which lead up to ethical science, or "the establishment of rules of right conduct on a scientific basis." Having reached the subject with this profound and systematic preparation, he has given us a preliminary outline of his views of scientific morality in the small volume of the "Data of Ethics." Professor Smith's article is an attack—and, we regret to say, a most unscrupulous attack—upon this book.

Throughout his article Professor Smith represents Mr. Spencer as asserting, in his ethical volume, that the individual is to decide the right and wrong of an action by a direct balancing of the pleasures and pains involved, not to the community in general, but simply to himself. This is not so. Even had Mr. Spencer made no disavowal of this doctrine, the most cursory examination of his work would have shown that he takes no such position. But, when he dwells specifically upon the point, shows the fallacy of the idea, and explicitly repudiates it, the charge made against him is, to say the least, without excuse.

Spencer says, "It is quite possible to assert that happiness is the ultimate aim of action and at the same time to deny that it can be reached by making it the immediate aim." And, again: "The view for which I contend is, that morality, properly so called, the science of right conduct, has for its object to determine how and why certain modes of conduct are detrimental and certain other modes beneficial. These good and bad results can not be accidental but must be necessary consequences of the constitution of things; and I conceive it to be the business of moral