is not a moral act for a savage to save a man alive if he is spared with the intention of fattening and eating him later.
Now let us suppose that the action under discussion is my contribution of a dollar to the hoard of the beggar on the corner. Is it a creditable action? Is it even a moral action? Only the unreflective will undertake to answer off-hand that it is. I may have given that dollar in the hope that one more drinking-bout would finish the beggar, and relieve me of his unæsthetic presence when I take my daily walk. I may have given it out of pure vanity, and to compel the admiration of the pleasing young person who is waiting for the tram. On the other hand, I may have given it because I was touched by the sight of suffering, and was willing to make a sacrifice for the sake of relieving it. It seems the most natural thing in the world to judge that the action was, in the last case, a creditable one, but was not creditable in the others. We have been judging of actions in this way all our lives.
But what if the act was a 'free' one? What if it was not determined by my character and impulses and the peculiar circumstances in which I was placed? In this case it cannot be explained by my desire to be rid of the beggar's presence. The impression made upon me by the fair onlooker cannot account for it. The sight of the beggar's misery furnishes no explanation. We cannot ask why the act was done. It was a 'free' act. It simply appeared. It was not done for the sake of removing the beggar, tickling my vanity or relieving suffering; for just in so far as an act is 'free' it cannot be accounted for by any ideas antecedently in my mind or by my natural tendency to selfishness, to vanity or to generous movements of sympathy. It is, hence, an act without a setting—causeless, purposeless, blind. Is it a creditable act? Are such acts the only creditable acts? Surely we have turned our face resolutely away from the moral judgments of mankind when we have committed ourselves to the unnatural doctrine that only 'free' acts are deserving of credit.
It is quite inconceivable that men should with open eyes defend the doctrine of 'freedom' on moral grounds. When they attempt to do so, h is clear that they are really arguing in favor of freedom, a thing well worth fighting for, and dear to the heart of determinist and 'free-willist' alike. They have simply fallen into a confusion, and have confounded two things that are extremely unlike. I should be the last to maintain that the world could get on properly without philosophers, but I must frankly admit that the philosopher sometimes falls into error, and is very apt to take with him in his fall certain of the by-standers who, if left to themselves, would never have thought of tumbling into that particular ditch.