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correctly or not. It may then be right in one sense) for a man to do an act which is wrong (in the other sense).2
What is the justification of praise and blame?
Kant was expressing a familiar thought when he wrote that a man deserved no praise for either instinctive or calculating acts. Why should we praise a man for doing what he wants to do, what is the most natural and easy thing for him to do, or what he can foresee will bring about desirable consequences? Should we not praise only the man who fights his inclinations, does right when he does not want to, and without foresight of ultimate gain?
As a matter of fact, however, we do praise and admire and love the saints who do right easily and graciously. We do not refuse our admiration to Christ because it was his meat and drink, his deepest joy, to do his Father's work; nor do we imagine him as having to wrestle with inner devils of spitefulness and ill-temper. The type of character we rate highest is that from which all these lower impulses have been finally banished, the character that inevitably seeks the pure and the good. And on the other hand, as we have just seen, we often blame the man who, with the noblest intentions, and at great cost to himself, does what we consider wrong.
It is thus true that our reactions of praise and blame are complicated and inconsistent. We often praise a man and blame him at the same time; praise him for following his conscience, and blame him for having a narrow and dis
1 C. D. Broad in International Journal of Ethics, vol. 24, pp. 316, 320.
2 Strictly speaking, there are four possible usages of the word “right": An act is right which (a) is actually going to have the best consequences; which (6) might be expected, on our best human knowledge, to have the best consequences; which (c) the actor, on his partial information, and with his partial powers of judgment, expects to have the best consequences; or which (d) his conscience approves, without reference to consequences.
torted conscience to follow. Different people in a community will praise or blame him according as they consider this or that aspect of his conduct. What, then, is the rationale of these emotion-reactions?
Obviously, the same natural forces which have produced morality have, pari passu, produced these emotions; they are one of the great means by which men have been pushed into being moral. We praise people, ultimately, because it is socially useful to praise them; the approbation of one's fellows is one of the greatest possible incentives to right conduct. We blame people that they and others may be thereby deterred from wrongdoing. For ages these emotions have been arising in men's hearts, veering their fellows toward moral action. Neither blamer nor blamed has realized the purpose nature may be said to have had in view; the emotional reaction has been instinctive, like sneezing. But if it had not been for its eminent usefulness it would never have developed and become so deep-rooted in us. If blame did no good, if it did not tend to correct evildoing, it would be an unhappy and undesirable state of mind, to be weeded out, like malice or discouragement. Praise might be kept for its intrinsic worth, its agreeableness, like sweet odors and pleasant colors. But actually we need to conserve these reactions for their extrinsic value, as spurs and correctives.
The man who acts upon a calculated expectation of consequences is, indeed, to be praised, if the ends he has sought are good and his calculation correct. Prudence, foresight, thoughtfulness are among the most important virtues. On the other hand, the man who does right instinctively is to be most admired; for to reach that goal is the aim of much of our inner struggle. The approbation we heap upon him, if not needed to keep him up to his best, at least is beneficial to others, who thereby may be stimulated to imitate his goodness. Any sort of conduct that is in line with human
welfare is to be praised and loved and sung, and kept before the minds of the young and plastic.
More deeply rooted, perhaps, than the disparagement of praise, is the compassionate revulsion from blame. “He meant well"; "His conscience is clear"; "How could he help sinning with such a bringing-up!” — such pleas pull us up in the midst of our condemnation. And they must have their weight. Conscientiousness must be praised, while in the same breath we blame the folly or fanaticism it led to. And the visibly degrading effects of environment should make us tender toward the erring, even while, for their own sakes and the sake of others, we continue to blame the sin. Society cannot afford to overlook sin because it sees provocation for it. There is always provocation, there are always causes outside the sinner's heart. But there is also always a cause within the heart, an openness to temptation, and acquiescence in the evil impulse, which we must try to reach and influence by our blame and condemnation. No doubt in like circumstances we should do as badly, or worse. But to blame does not mean that we set ourselves up as of finer clay; it means only that we continue to use a weapon of great value for the advancement of human welfare. A man always "could have helped it” — he could have if his inward aversion to the sin had been strong enough; and it is precisely because blame tends to make that aversion stronger in the sinner and in all who are aware of it, that we must employ it.
Reward and punishment are the materialization of praise and blame and have the same uses. We reward and punish men not because in some unanalyzable sense they “deserve" it, but ultimately in order to foster noble and heroic acts and deter men from crime. The giving of rewards for good conduct has never been systematized (except for Carnegie medals, school prizes, and a few other cases), and the practical difficulties in the way are probably insuperable, Indeed, the natural outward rewards of fame, position, increased salary, etc., would be spur enough, if they could be made less capricious and more certain. But to restrain its members from injury to one another is so necessary to society, and so difficult, that elaborate systems of punishment have been used since prehistoric times. To a consideration of the contemporary problems concerning punishment we shall return at a later stage in our study.
What is responsibility?
There is one plea which exempts a person from blame when we say he was not responsible. Responsibility means accountability, liability to blame and punishment. We do not hold accountable those classes whom it would do no good to blame or punish. Babies, the feeble-minded, the insane, are not deterred by blame; hence we do not hold them responsible. Beyond these obvious exemptions there are all sorts of degrees of responsibility, carefully worked out in that branch of the law known as “torts.” The principle upon which man has instinctively gone, and which the law now recognizes, in holding men accountable - or, in other words, imputing responsibility - is the degree in which they might have been expected to foresee the consequences of their acts. The following set of cases will illustrate the principle:
(1) We do not hold a man responsible at all for unforeseeable results of his action. If because of turning his cows into pasture a passing dog gets excited and tramples a neighbor's flower-bed, the owner of the cows is not responsible for the damage; it would do no good to exact punishment for what was so indirectly and unexpectedly due to his action.
(2) But if his cows got over the wall and trampled the beds, he would be held responsible, in different degrees,
according to the circumstances. If he had inspected the wall with eyes of experience and honestly thought it would keep the cows in, we deem him only slightly responsible. He could have done nothing more; yet he must learn more accurately to distinguish safe walls from unsafe. It is fairer for him to pay for the damage than for the owner of the flower-bed to suffer the loss; such risks must be assumed as a part of the business of keeping cows.
(3) If he was ignorant of the necessary height or strength of wall, we blame him more. He has no business keeping cows until he knows all aspects of the business.
(4) If there was a gap in the wall which he would have noticed if he had taken ordinary care, we hold him still further to blame, and his punishment must be severer.
(5) If he remembered the gap in the wall and did not take the trouble to repair it, thereby consenting to the damage his cows might do, his case is still worse.
(6) Finally, if he deliberately turned the cows into his field with the hope that they would go through the gap and damage his neighbor's flower-beds, he is the most dangerous type of criminal, of “malice aforethought," and his punishment must be severest of all.
In such ways do we distinguish between traits of character more and more dangerous to society, and adjust our blame and punishment to their different degrees of danger, and the differing degrees of efficacy that the blame and punishment may have. But throughout these are purely utilitarian, an unhappy necessity for the preservation of human welfare.
On goodness of character: Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, chap. XIII. F. Paulsen, System of Ethics, bk. II, chap. I, secs. 3,5. Leslie Stephen, Science of Ethics, chap. VII.
The Kantian theory: Kant's Metaphysic of Morality. A good edition in English is Abbott's Kant's Theory of Ethics. There are