Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/40

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

the inherent quality of moral rightness; it is still a blind respect for what is enjoined by certain persons who are respected and beloved. In order that the blind, sympathetic regard may pass into an intelligent appreciation, another kind of experience is necessary.

Thrown with others from the first, a child soon finds that he is affected in various ways by their actions. Thus another child takes a toy from him or strikes him, and he suffers, and experiences a feeling of anger, and an impulse to retaliate. Or, on the contrary, another child is generous and shares his toys, etc., with him, and so his happiness is augmented, and he is disposed to be grateful. In such ways the child gradually gains experience of the effect of others' good and bad actions on his own welfare. By so doing his apprehension of the meaning of moral distinctions is rendered clearer. "Right" and "wrong" acquire a certain significance in relation to his individual well-being. He is now no longer merely in the position of an unintelligent subject to a command; he becomes to some extent an intelligent approver of that command, helping to enforce it, by pronouncing the doer of the selfish act "naughty," and of the kind action "good."

Further experience and reflection on this would teach the child the reciprocity and interdependence of right conduct; that the honesty, fairness, and kindness of others toward himself are conditional on his acting similarly toward them. In this way he would be led to attach a new importance to his own performance of certain right actions. He feels impelled to do what is right, e. g., speak the truth, not simply because he wants to avoid his parents' condemnation, but because he begins to recognize that network of reciprocal dependence which binds each individual member of a community to his fellows.

Even now, however, our young moral learner has not attained to a genuine and pure repugnance to wrong as such. In order that he may feel this, the higher sympathetic feelings must be further developed.

To illustrate the influence of such a higher sympathy, let us suppose that A suffers from B's angry outbursts or his greedy propensities. He finds that C and D also suffer in much the same way. If his sympathetic impulses are sufficiently keen he will be able, by help of his own similar sufferings, to put himself in the place of the injured one, and to resent his injury just as though it were done to himself. At the beginning he will feel only for those near him, and the objects of special affection, as his mother or his sister. Hence the moral importance of family relations and their warm personal affections, as serving first to develop habitual sympathy with others and consideration for their interests and claims. As his sympathies expand, however, this indignation against wrong-doing will take a wider sweep, and embrace a larger and larger circle of his fellows. In this way he comes to exercise a higher moral function as a disinterested spectator of others' conduct, and an impartial representative and supporter of the moral law.