The Basis of Morality/Chapter IV

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We come now to the sure basis of morality, the bedrock of Nature, whereon Morality may be built beyond all shaking and change, built as a Science with recognised laws, and in a form intelligible and capable of indefinite expansion. Evolution is recognised as the method of Nature, her method in all her realms, and according to the ascertained laws of Nature, so far as they are known, all wise and thoughtful people endeavour to guide themselves. In making Morality a Science, we give it a binding force, and render it of universal application; moreover, we incorporate into it all the fragments of truth which exist in other systems, and which have lent to them their authority, their appeal to the intellect and the heart.

Let us first define Morality. It is the science of human relations, the Science of Conduct, and its laws, as inviolable, as sure, as changeless, as all other laws of Nature, can be discovered and formulated. Harmony with these laws, like harmony with all other natural laws, is the condition of happiness, for in a realm of law none can move without pain while disregarding law. A law of Nature is the statement of an inviolable and constant sequence external to ourselves and unchangeable by our will, and amid the conditions of these inviolable sequences we live, from these we cannot escape. One choice alone is ours: to live in harmony with them or to disregard them; violate them we cannot, but we can dash ourselves against them; then the law asserts itself in the suffering that results from our flinging ourselves against it, or from our disregarding its existence; its existence is proved as well by the pain that results from our disregard of it, as by the pleasure that results from our harmony with it. Only a fool deliberately and gratuitously disregards a natural law when he knows of its existence; a man shapes his conduct so as to avoid the pain which results from clashing with it, unless he deliberately disregards the pain in view of a result to be brought about, which he considers to be worth more than the purchase price of pain. The Science of Morality, of Right Conduct, "lays down the conditions of harmonious relations between individuals, and their several environments small or large, families, societies, nations, humanity as a whole. Only by the knowledge and observance of these laws can men be either permanently healthy or permanently happy, can they live in peace and prosperity. Where morality is unknown or disregarded, friction inevitably arises, disharmony and pain result; for Nature is a settled Order in the mental and moral worlds as much as in the physical, and only by knowledge of that Order and by obedience to it can harmony, health and happiness be secured."

The religious man sees in the laws of Nature the manifestation of the Divine Nature, and in obedience to and co-operation with them, he sees obedience to and co-operation with the Will of God. The non-religious man sees them as sequences he cannot alter, on harmony with which his happiness, his comfort, depends. In either case they have a binding force. The man belonging to any exoteric religion will modify by them the precepts of his Scriptures, realising that morality rises as Evolution proceeds. He does thus modify scriptural precepts by practical obedience or disregard, whether he do it by theory or not. But it is better that theory and practice should correspond. The intuitionist will understand that conscience, accumulated experience, has developed by experience within these laws. The utilitarian will see that the happiness of all, not only of the greatest number, must be ensured by a true morality, and will understand why Happiness is the result thereof. Manu indicates the various bases very significantly: "The whole Veḍa is the source of the Sacred Law [Revelation], next the tradition [Conscience] and the virtuous conduct of those who know [Utility], also the customs of holy men [Evolution] and self-satisfaction [Mysticism]" (ii, 6.). It is true that happiness can result only by harmony with law, harmony with the Divine Will which is embodied in law—we need not quarrel over names—and the Science of Right Conduct, "by establishing righteousness brings about Happiness". It may therefore be truly said that the object of Morality is Universal Happiness. Why the doing of a right action causes a flow of happiness in the doer, even in the midst of a keen temporary pain entailed by it, we shall see under "Mysticism".

The moment we base Morality on Evolution, we see that it must change with the stage of evolution reached, and that the duty—that which ought to be done—of the civilised and highly advanced man is not the same as the duty of the savage. "One set of duties for men in the Kṛṭa age, different ones in the Treṭā and in the Dvāpara, and another in the Kali." (Manusmṛṭi, i, 85.) Different ages bring new duties. But if Morality be based on Evolution we can at once define what is "Right" and what is "Wrong". That is Right which subserves Evolution; that is Wrong which antagonises it. Or in other words, for those of us who believe that God's method for this world is the evolutionary: that is Right which co-operates with His Will; that is wrong which works against it. "Revelation" is an attempt to state this at any given time; "Intuition" is the result of successful attempts to do this; "Utility" is the application of observed results of happiness and misery which flow from obedience to this, or disregard thereof.

Evolution is the unfolding and manifestation of life-energies, the unfolding of the capacities of consciousness, the manifestation of these ever-increasing capacities in ever-improving and more plastic forms. The primary truth of Morality, as of Religion and of Science, is the Unity of Life. One Life ever unfolding in endless varieties of forms; the essence of all beings is the same, the inequalities are the marks of the stage of its unfoldment.

When we base Morality on Evolution, we cannot have, it is obvious, one cut and dry rule for all. Those who want cut and dry rules must go to their Scriptures for them, and even then, as the rules in the Scriptures are contradictory—both as between Scriptures and within any given Scripture—they must call in the help of Intuition and Utility in the making of their code, in their selective process. This selective process will be largely moulded by the public opinion of their country and age, emphasising some precepts and ignoring others, and the code will be the expression of the average morality of the time. If this clumsy and uncertain fashion of finding a rule of conduct does not suit us, we must be willing to exert our intelligence, to take a large view of the evolutionary process, and to deduce our moral precepts at any given stage by applying our reason to the scrutiny of this process at that stage. This scrutiny is a laborious one; but Truth is the prize of effort in the search therefor, it is not an unearned gift to the slothful and the careless.

This large view of the evolutionary process shows us that it is best studied in two great divisions: the first from the savage to the highly civilised man who is still working primarily for himself and his family, still working for private ends predominantly; and the second, at present but sparsely followed, in which the man, realising the supreme claim of the whole upon its part, seeks the public good predominantly, renounces individual advantages and private gains, and consecrates himself to the service of God and of man. The Hindu calls the first section of evolution the Pravṛṭṭi Mārga, the Path of Forthgoing; the second the Nivṛṭṭi Mārga, the Path of Return. In the first, the man evolves by taking; in the second, by giving. In the first, he incurs debts; in the second, he pays them. In the first, he acquires; in the second, he renounces. In the first, he lives for the profit of the smaller self; in the second, for the service of the One Self. In the first, he claims Rights; in the second, he discharges Duties.

Thus Morality is seen from two view-points, and the virtues it comprises fall into two groups. Men are surrounded on every side by objects of desire, and the use of these is to evoke the desire to possess them, to stimulate exertion, to inspire efforts, and thus to make faculty, capacity—strength, intelligence, alertness, judgment, perseverance, patience, fortitude. Those who regard the world as God-emanated and God-guided, must inevitably realise that the relation of man—susceptible to pleasure and pain by contact with his environment—to his environment—filled with pleasure and pain-giving objects—must be intended to provoke in man the desire to possess the pleasure-giving, to avoid the pain-giving. In fact, God's lures to exertion are pleasures; His warnings are pains and the interplay between man and environment causes evolution. The man who does not believe in God has only to substitute the word "Nature" for "God" and to leave out the idea of design, and the argument remains the same: man's relation to his environment provokes exertion, and thus evolution. A man on the Path of Forthgoing will, at first, seize everything he desires, careless of others, and will gradually learn, from the attacks of the despoiled, some respect for the rights of others; the lesson will be learnt more quickly by the teaching of more advanced men—Ṛṣhis, Founders of Religions, Sages, and the like—who tell him that if he kills, robs, tramples on others, he will suffer. He does all these things; he suffers; he learns—his post-mortem lives helping him much in the learning. Later on, he lives a more controlled and regulated life, and he may blamelessly enjoy the objects of desire, provided he injure none in the taking. Hinḍūism lays down, as the proper pursuits for the household life, the gaining of wealth, the performance of the duties of the position held, the gratification of desire. The desires will become subtler and more refined as intelligence fashions them and as emotions replace passions; but throughout the treading of the Path of Forthgoing, the "desire for fruit" is the necessary and blameless motive for exertion. Without this, the man at this stage of evolution becomes lethargic and does not evolve. Desire subserves Evolution, and it is Right. The gratification of Desire may lead a man to do injury to others, and as soon as he has developed enough to understand this, then the gratification becomes wrong, because, forgetting the Unity, he has inflicted harm on one who shares life with him, and has thus hampered evolution. The sense of Unity is the root-Love, the Uniter, and Love is the expression of the attraction of the separated towards union; out of Love, controlled by reason and by the desire for the happiness of all, grow all Virtues, which are but permanent, universal, specialised forms of love. So also is the sense of Separateness the root-Hate, the Divider, the expression of the repulsion of the separated from each other. Out of this grow all Vices, the permanent, universal, specialised forms of Hate. That which Love does for the Beloved, that Virtue does for all who need its aid, so far as its power extends. That which Hate wreaks on the Abhorred, that Vice does to all who obstruct its path, so far as its power extends.

"Virtues and Vices are fixed emotional states. The Virtues are fixed Love-emotions, regulated and controlled by enlightened intelligence seeing the Unity; the Vices are fixed Hate-emotions, strengthened and intensified by the unenlightened intelligence, seeing the separateness." (Universal Text Book, ii, 32.) It is obvious that virtues are constructive and vices destructive, for Love holds together, while Hate disintegrates. Yet the modified form of Hate—antagonism, competition—had its part to play in the earlier stages of human evolution, developing strength, courage, and endurance, and while Love built up Nations within themselves, Hate made each strong against its competitor. And within Nations, there has been conflict of classes, class and caste war, and all this modified and softened by a growing sense of a common good, until Competition, the characteristic of the Path of Forthgoing tends to change into Co-operation, the characteristic of the Path of Return. The Path of Forthgoing must still be trodden by many, but the number is decreasing; more and more are turning towards the Path of Return. Ideals are formulated by the leaders of Humanity, and the Ideals held up to-day are increasingly those of Love and of Service. "During the first stage, man grasps at everything he desires and develops a strong individuality by conflict; in the second, he shares all he has, and yokes that individuality to service; ever-increasing separation is the key-note of the one; ever-increasing unity is the key-note of the other. Hence we need not brand as evil the rough aggression and the fierce struggles of barbarous times; they were a necessary stage of growth and were at that stage Right, and in the divine plan. But now those days are over, strength has been won; the time has come when the separated selves must gradually draw together, and to co-operate with the divine Will which is working for union is the Right. The Right which is the outcome of Love, directed by reason, at the present stage of evolution, then, seeks an ever-increasing realisation of Unity, a drawing together of the separated selves. That which by establishing harmonious relations makes for Unity is Right; that which divides and disintegrates, which makes for separation, is Wrong." (ibid., 10, 11.)

Hinḍūism, on which the whole of this is based, has added to this broad criterion the division of a life into four stages, to each of which appropriate virtues are assigned: the Student Period, with its virtues of perfect continence, industry, frugality, exertion; the Household Period, with its virtue of duties appropriate to the position, the earning and enjoying of wealth, the gratification of desires; the Retirement Period, with the virtues of the renouncing of worldly gain and of sacrifice; the Ascetic Period, of complete renunciation, meditation and preparation for post-mortem life. These indications make more easy the decisions as to Right and Wrong.

The more we think upon and work out into detail this view of Morality as based on Evolution, the more we realise its soundness, and the more we find that the moral law is as discoverable by observation, by reason, and by experiment, as any other law of Nature. If a man disregards it, either ignorantly or wilfully, he suffers. A man may disregard physical hygienic and sanitary laws because of his ignorance; none the less will he suffer from physical disease. A man may disregard moral laws because of ignorance; none the less will he suffer from moral disease. The sign of disease in both cases is pain and unhappiness; experts in both cases warn us, and if we disregard the warning, we learn its truth later by experience. There is no hurry; but the law is sure. Working with the law, man evolves swiftly with happiness; working against it, he evolves slowly with pain. In either case, he evolves, advancing joyously as a free man, or scourged onwards as a slave. The most obstinate fool in life's class, refusing to learn, fortunately dies and cannot quite escape after death the knowledge of his folly.

Let the reader try for himself the solution of moral problems, accepting, as a hypothesis, the facts of evolution and of the two halves of its huge spiral, and see for himself if this view does not offer a rational, intelligible, practical meaning to the much-vexed words, Right and Wrong. Let him see how it embraces all that is true in the other bases suggested, is their summation, and rationalises their precepts. He will find that Morality is no longer dependent on the maxims of great Teachers—though indeed they proclaimed its changeless laws—nor on the imperfect resultant of individual experiences, nor on the happiness of some only of the great human family, but that it inheres in the very nature of things, an essential law of happy life and ordered progress. Then indeed is Morality founded on a basis that cannot be moved; then indeed can it speak with an imperial authority the "ought" that must be obeyed; then it unfolds its beauty as humanity evolves to its perfecting, and leads to Bliss Eternal, the Brahman Bliss, where the human will, in fullest freedom, accords itself in harmony with the divine.