Imágenes de páginas

but we should then be putting as our test and ultimate authority the attainment of our welfare, which would be to abandon the point of view we are discussing. Conscience claims authority. But that might conceivably be mere impudence and tyranny. Moreover, there are those who feel no call to follow conscience; how could we prove to them that they ought? Is it not the height of irrationality to bow down before an unexplained and mysterious impulse and allow it to sway our conduct without knowing why? If the "ought" is really shot out of the blue at us, if there is no justification, no imperious demand for morality but the existence of this inner push, why might we not raise our heads, refuse to be dominated by it, and live the life of free men, following the happy breezes of our desires? That is precisely what many have done, men who have reached maturity enough of mind to see the emptiness of following an ingrained impulse simply because it exists, but not a full enough maturity to see beyond to the real justification and significance of conscience.

A further realization of the inadequacy of the intuitive theory comes when we observe that conscience is by no means always clear in its dictates. It often leaves us in the lurch. Developed in us as it has been by circumstance and suggestion, it helps us usually only in certain recognized types of situation. When new cases arise, it is hopelessly at sea. As a practical working principle, conscientiousness is not only apt to be a perverted and provincial guide, it is insufficient for the solving of fresh and difficult problems. The science of casuistry has been developed in great detail to supply this lack, to apply the well-recognized deliverances of a certain accepted type of conscience to the various possibilities of situation. These systems, however, reflect the idiosyncrasies of their makers, and have never won wide approbation. Morality must remain largely experimental,

individual. Conscience will play a very useful rôle in spurring us to our recognized duty in the commoner situations, but for all the more delicate decisions we need a more ultimate touchstone. We must grasp the underlying principles of right conduct, and weigh the relative goods attainable by each possible act. A well-balanced and normal conscience will save us the recurrent reasoning out of typical perplexities, but it must be supplemented by an insight into the ends to be aimed for and kept rather strictly in its place.

What is the plausibility of moral intuitionism?

It is never wholly satisfactory merely to refute a theory; we must see its plausibility and understand its appeal if we are to be sure of doing it justice. In the case of the intuitiontheory it is easy to discern the reasons that have kept it alive-though it has never been at all widespread among thinking men - in spite of the obvious objections that can be raised to it.

(1) Perhaps the original source of the doctrine was a certain sort of religious faith; it follows easily as a corollary to the belief in God. If God commands us to do right, it is felt, He must have given us some way to know what is right. The inner voice of conscience may be just such a God-given guide; therefore it is such a guide; therefore it is infallible. A natural piece of a priori reasoning, on a par with the Christian Scientist's syllogism: God is good; a good God would not permit evil to exist; therefore there is no evil. Unfortunately a priori reasoning has to yield to actual experience. Since we see that conscience is not infallible and evil does exist, there must be some fallacy in the arguments.

(2) Another source of the doctrine's strength lies in its simplicity. It is a great mental relief to drop the tangle of

confusing considerations, to stop trying to reason out one's course of action, and follow a supposedly reliable guide. The intuition-theory goes naturally with a moral conservatism which dreads the chaos and uncertainty that follow upon the doubt of established moral habits. It is so much more comfortable to feel that one has already the one divine and ultimate code, that one has always done right because one has steadily obeyed the inner light! It is reassuring to divide the world into the sheep and the goats,

if one can believe one's self a sheep. But what - O dismay! - what if one were after all a goat! A great deal of mental anguish has been caused by the pseudo-simplicity of this dichotomy. There is no such clean-cut and clearly visible line between right and wrong; there is instead a bewildering maze of goods. Hardly any choice but involves a sacrifice, hardly any ideal but has its disadvantages. One learns with experience to be wary of these simple theories, these closet theories which collapse when they are brought out into the light of day.

(3) We must, however, be just. The fact of the reliability of conscience, and the wisdom of following its guidance, holds over a wide range of human experience — and the experience which is most apparent upon the surface. For all ordinary cases we of Christendom agree without hesitation that murder is wrong, and lying, and stealing. It seems a waste of time to try to justify our instinctive verdict, and the attempt would only be bewildering to most men. It is only when brought face to face with some alien code that we see the need of digging below intuition. A missionary to the South Seas may be confronted with men to whom the killing of other tribesmen and the accumulation of skulls is a glorious and honorable feat, or to whom skillful lying is an enviable and proud accomplishment. But most of us live among neighbors whose conscience is comfortably like our

own, and only occasionally become seriously perplexed. In the great mass of everyday occasions we do know our duty intuitively, and we do agree with one another. We recognize a duty at sight without realizing its teleology. It is not, indeed, an innate faculty; it was acquired during our formative years; it is not infallible. But the forces which have gone to the making of it are similar in all our lives, and the products are more alike than unlike.

(4) Finally, it is true that to obey conscience is, in a sense, to do right, to be moral, no matter how distorted conscience may be. Conscientiousness is in itself a virtue. To this point we shall later return. We need only say here that conscientiousness is not enough. Life is not so simple a matter as that. We need judgment, sanity, insight, as well as a strong sense of duty. We need to correct and train conscience, to adjust it to our real needs, to recognize that it is a means, not an end.

Our discussion, though rapid, should show that we cannot start with the "ought" of our conscience, or moral sense, and erect our moral theory upon that. Conscience itself needs to be explained. Its commands need to be justified by reference to some more ultimate criterion. It needs to be pruned of its fanaticism, developed where it is weak, and kept in line with our growing insight into what is best in conduct. Ruskin once summed the matter up by saying, "Obey thy conscience! But first be sure it is not the conscience of an ass!" Conscience may be a very dangerous guide. And even where it is normal and useful it must not be invested with any absolute and irrational authority.

Historical study, then, reveals the growth of personal and social morality through the action of forces which tend to drive men into conduct that makes for their welfare more surely than did their primitive animal impulses. Conscience

arises through these same forces. Though subject to perversion and infinitely variant in detail, community-morals and individual conscience have been the chief means of making man's life safe and wisely directed. The criterion that emerges from such a study is not, however, the bald existence of codes of morals, or of conscience, but the human welfare which those codes and that conscience exist to serve. To an exposition of the ways in which morality serves and should increasingly serve human welfare, we now turn.

Classic intuitional theories will be found developed in: Price. Review of the Chief Questions and Difficulties of Morals (1757), Shaftesbury, An Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit (1699). F. Hutcheson, An Inquiry Concerning Moral Good and Evil (1725). Joseph Butler, Fifteen Sermons upon Human Nature, II, III (1726). J. Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory (1885).

Criticisms of the intuitional theories will be found in: S.E. Mezes, Ethics, chap. II; Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, chap. XVI, sec. 3; F. Paulsen, System of Ethics, pt. II, chap. v, sec. 4; H. Spencer, Data of Ethics, chap. III, sec. 14; chap. IV, sec. 20; Muirhead, Elements of Ethics, secs. 32-35. H. Rashdall, The Theory of Good and Evil, bk. 1, chap. IV. W. Fite, Introductory Study of Ethics, chap. IX. W. G. Everett, Moral Values, chap. IX.

« AnteriorContinuar »