« AnteriorContinuar »
believe that conscience has a natural history. Nor are they usually keen at psychological analysis; the numberless variations in form which conscience assumes in different individuals are, for their purposes, better ignored. Instead of analyzing the moral sense into its components and describing the mental stuff of which it is composed, instead of tracing its genesis and studying the forces that have produced it, they wax eloquent over its importance and universality. As preachers they are admirable. But the foundation they provide for morality is slippery. It amounts to saying, “We ought to do right because we know we ought!” When we ask how we can be sure, in view of the general fallibility of human conviction, that we are not mistaken in our assurance, and following a false light, they can but reiterate in altered phraseology that we know because we know.
To these intuitionists, and to the popular mind very often, the approval or disapproval of conscience is immediate, intuitive, and unerring. Its authority is absolute and not to be questioned. We have this faculty within us that tells us as surely what is right and what wrong as our colorsense tells us what is red and what green. Some people may, to be sure, be color-blind, or have defective consciences; but the great mass of unsophisticated people possess this innate guide and commandment, a quite sufficient warrant for all our distinctions of good and evil. Honest men do not really differ in their moral judgments. They may misunderstand one another's concepts and engage in verbal disputes; but at bottom their moral sense approves and disapproves the same acts. Our moral differences come mainly from the deluding effects of passion and the sophisticated ingenuities of the intellect. We should "return to nature,” go by ourselves alone, and listen to the inner voice. If we sincerely listen and obey we shall always do right."
1 “But truth and right, founded in the eternal and necessary reason of
We cannot but recognize a certain amount of practical truth in this picture. But it is over-simplified, and it is fundamentally unsatisfactory to the intellect. We shall now pass in review its most obvious inadequacies.
Do the deliverances of different people's consciences agree?
Nothing is more notorious to an unbiased observer than the conscientious differences between men. Even among members of a single community, with closely similar inheritance and environment, we find marked divergence in moral judgment. And when we compare widely different times and places we are apt to wonder if there is any common ground. It is only a very smug provincialism that can attribute the alien standards of other races and nations to a disregard of the light. Mohammedans and Buddhists have believed as firmly in, and fought as passionately for, their moral convictions as Christians have for theirs. When we survey the vast amount of material amassed by anthropologists, we find that, as has been often said, there is hardly & vice that has not somewhere been deemed a virtue, and hardly a virtue but has been branded as a vice. History is full of the pathos of havoc wrought by conscientious men, of foolish and ruinous acts which they have braced themselves to do for conscience' sake. One has but to think of the earnest and prayerful inquisitors and persecutors in the medieval Church, of the Puritans destroying the stainedglass windows and paintings of the Madonna, of the caliph who destroyed the great Alexandrian library, bereaving the world at one blow of that priceless culture-inheritance. Written biography, fiction which truly represents life, and individual memory are full of sad instances where deadlocks things, is what every man can judge of, when laid before him. 'T is neces. sarily one and the same to every man's understanding, just as light is the same, to every man's eyes.” (S. Clarke, Discourse upon Natural Religion 1706.)
of conscience have sundered those who truly loved and wrought irremediable pain and loss. Lately the newspapers told us of the heroic suicide of General Nogi and his wife, who felt it their duty not to survive their emperor. To a Catholic Christian this imperious dictate of the Japanese conscience would be a deadly sin. And so it goes. There is no need to multiply instances of what can be observed on every hand. Conscience reflects the traditions and influences amid which a man grows up.
But if the deliverances of different men's consciences conflict, how shall we know which to trust? If any particular command of the inner voice may be morally wrong, how can we trust it at all? There are obviously morbid and perverted consciences; but if conscience itself is the ultimate authority, and is not to be justified and criticized by some deeper test, what right have we to call any of its manifestations morbid or perverted? Is it not a species of egotism to hold one's own moral discernment as superior to another's; and if so, do we not need some criterion by which to judge between them? Surely the diversity of its judgments makes conscience an impossible foundation for morality; we should have as many codes as consciences and fall into a hopeless confusion.
If conscience everywhere agreed in its dictates, could we
base morality upon it? Even, however, if conscience led us all in the same direction, would that prove its authority? Perhaps we should all be following a will o' the wisp, and foolishly sacrificing our desires to an idol of the tribe, a universal superstition. Must it not show its credentials before it can legitimately command our allegiance? It is but one specific type of impulse among many; why should it be given the reins, the control over all? Do we say, because conscience makes for our best welfare? The answer would, in general, be true; 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 & 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