Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/158

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And yet, unless our own judgment is fatally at fault, Mr. Smith, one of the very best-furnished critics of modern times, has signally failed to do justice to Mr. Spencer's philosophy, or at least to the portion of it embodied in his last volume but one, "The Data of Ethics." The article contributed by Mr. Smith to the "Contemporary Review" for February of this year constitutes the most serious attack, by far, that has been made upon the volume in question. To mention Mr. Smith as its author is to vouch for the force, perspicuity, and felicity of the style, and for a large infusion of that common-sense philosophy which carries persuasion to the general reader. Many have read that article who never read "The Data of Ethics"; and we have little doubt that the opinion of these in regard to the questions at issue has been largely molded by it. In these days of rapid literary production it is a rare thing to find an article remembered three months after it is written; but Mr. Smith's article still finds echoes in many quarters of society, and particularly from the pulpit. It can not, therefore, be considered too late to submit it to a careful examination, in order to see how far Mr. Spencer's positions have really been shaken by the arguments brought against them.

Mr. Spencer's book is essentially a study of human conduct (purposive action) in its origin and development, with a view to discovering the nature and sanctions of morality. That it is of the utmost importance that men should feel strongly the distinction between right and wrong Mr. Spencer everywhere implies; and his object is to place that distinction on a basis which, if not so imposing as that heretofore furnished by theology, may at least not be subject to the vicissitudes which seem to be the portion of all theological codes. We must presume our readers to be more or less familiar with the work in question, and to have followed Mr. Spencer in his demonstration that, as purpose takes a wider range, it gathers to itself an accompaniment of moral emotion. In connection even with self-regarding actions, a certain sense of moral power accompanies every subordination of an immediate impulse to one more remote. The individual awakens to a sense of the capacity for choice, and the foundations are thus laid for moral freedom. It is, however, the life of the family, the tribe, the community, that lends the greatest enlargement to individual thought and feeling. Care for offspring comes first to break down the tyranny of exclusive regard for self. The family develops into the tribe, and men learn to practice a certain measure of justice toward one another as the essential condition of co-operation. The increasing harmony of outward relations has its inward counterpart in increased strength and breadth of sympathy. The moral quality of an action depends upon the degree in which it tends to promote or diminish happiness; but this, as Mr. Spencer repeatedly points out, is in most cases to be determined rather by the conformity or non-conformity of the action with certain general principles ascertained to be favorable to happiness