Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/289

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285
SCIENCE AND MORALITY

conduct have some other source than theology or religion, then religious instruction would not be the remedy sought. Indeed, it is possible that those springs of virtue may be choked and their flow retarded by theological tenets, and the remedy proposed would not only not be beneficial but actually detrimental.

To clear the ground for a discussion of the causes of morality it is first necessary to agree on what moral conduct is. If virtue no longer consists in obeying a set of arbitrary statutes given to man by an omniscient being, what criterion shall be used in judging conduct? What makes lying, murder, adultery, covetousness, immoral, since that they are immoral we all feel instinctively? How can we tell good from bad conduct? The answer is obvious from the results which follow such conduct. All immoral acts result in communal unhappiness; all moral acts in communal happiness. The ten commandments really constitute the "common law" of morality; for, although they have been given the form of mandatory statutes, they actually represent those fundamental principles of conduct which humanity has found by experience to be necessary to human happiness. Humanity should, and does, modify and add to these basic principles as long experience shows to be desirable. We can use this criterion for distinguishing good from bad conduct and say that all acts which cause general unhappiness, or permanently diminish human happiness, are immoral; and all acts which increase it are moral. This criterion enables us to understand why different standards of morality exist among different peoples, since the immorality of any act is not generally acknowledged until the misery which comes from it is generally perceived.

Since moral conduct conduces to general comfort and immoral conduct to discomfort, one factor in the improvement of morals is obvious, for that the general happiness is influenced by the acts of individuals is perceived by all. Humanity has been driven by its own unhappiness to adopt a code of actions which produces a minimum of unhappiness. In other words, it has been driven away from immoral and toward moral conduct. This, however, is not the whole, and possibly not the most important, cause of individual morality. Such an altruistic basis of morality would probably not be a sufficiently powerful incentive to good conduct in each of us, were it not reinforced by another factor. The selfishness of the majority of men is so great that the unhappiness of others, produced by their acts, would have little effect in modifying their conduct, provided their own happiness was secured, were it not for that other factor.

There is in each one of us a fundamental instinct which actually makes the happiness of others the most powerful of all incentives to morality. Man is endowed by nature with a feeling of love for his fellow men, which makes it impossible for him to be happy and at