Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/199

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






IT is known to all who watch the signs of the times—obvious, indeed, to them, and known to many who are less observant—that those moral restraints which claim to be of sacred origin are no longer accepted by a large and increasing number of persons. I have no wish to inquire here whether those restraints should be regarded as of divine origin or not. I note only the fact that by many they are not so regarded. I am not concerned to ask whether it is well or ill that their authority should be rejected, and their controlling influence be diminishing or disappearing among many; it suffices, so far as my present purpose is concerned, that the fact is so. The question then presents itself, Does any rule of conduct promise to have power now or soon among those who have rejected the regulative system formerly prevalent? We need not consider whether such a rule of conduct, necessarily secular in origin, is in itself better or worse than a rule based on commandments regarded as divine. All we have at present to ask is whether such a regulative system is likely to replace the older one with those over whom that older law no longer has influence.

Here at the outset we find that those who hold extreme views on either side of the questions I have left untouched agree in one view which is, I think, erroneous. On the one hand, those who maintain the divine character of the current creed insist, not only that it is sufficient for all, but that, in the nature of things, no other guide is possible. On the other hand, those who reject the authority of that creed most energetically, assert as positively that no new regulative system, no new controlling agency, is necessary. As Mr. Herbert Spencer has well put it, "both contemplate a vacuum, which one wishes and the other fears." But those who take wiser and more moderate views, who, in the first place, recognize facts as they are, and, in the next, are ready to subordinate their own ideas of what is necessary or best for the ideal man to the necessities of man as he really is, perceive that for the many who no longer value a regulative system which, so far as they are concerned, is decaying, if not dead, another regulative system is essential. Again, to use the words of the great philosopher whose teachings are to be our chief guide in this series of papers, "Few things can happen more disastrous than the decay and death of a regulative system no longer fit" (for those we are considering), "before another and fitter regulative system has grown up to replace it."

My purpose in these papers is to show how rules of conduct may be established on a scientific basis for those who regard the so-called