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THE ORIGIN OF PERSONAL MORALITY
IN almost any field it is wise to precede definition by an impartial survey of the subject-matter. So if we are to form an unbiased conception of what morality is, it will be safest to consider first what the morals of men actually have been, how they came into being, and what function they have served in human life. Thus we shall be sure that our theory is in touch with reality, and be saved from mere closet-philosophies and irrelevant speculations. Our task in this First Part will be not to criticize by reference to any ethical standards, but to observe and describe, as a mere bit of preliminary sociology, what it is in their lives to which men have given the name “morality," of what use it has been, and through the action of what forces it has tended to develop. With these data in mind, we shall be the better able, in the Second Part, to formulate our criteria for judging the different codes of morality; we shall find that we are but making explicit and conscious the considerations that, unexpressed and unrealized, have been the persistent and underlying factors in their development.
How early in the evolutionary process did personal moral
ity of some sort emerge? Of course the words (in any language) and the explicit conceptions "morality,” “duty," "right,” “wrong," etc., are very late in appearance, presupposing as they do a power of reflection and abstraction which develops only in man and with a considerable civilization. Even in the Homeric poems, which reflect a degree of mental cultivation in some respects equal to our own, these concepts hardly appear. But ages earlier, far back in the course of animal evolution, there emerged phenomena which we may consider rudimentary forms of morality; and all early human history was replete with unanalyzed and unformulated moral struggles. Concretely, we mean by personal morality courage, industriousness, self-control, prudence, temperance, and other similar phenomena, which have this in common, that they involve a crossing of earlier-developed impulses and redirection of the individual's conduct, with the result, normally, that his welfare is enhanced. Exceptions to this result will be considered later; but the point to be noted at the outset is that personal morality is not at first the outcome of reflection, or a purely human affair. If we were to take the term “morality” in a narrower sense, as meaning conscious obedience to a sense of duty or to the moral law, it would obviously be a late product. But morality in this sense is only an ultimate development of what in its less conscious and reflective forms dates far back in pre-human history.
Take courage, for example, which may be briefly defined as action in spite of the instinct of fear and contrary to its leading. Nearly all of the higher animals exhibit courage in greater or less degree, and there are many touching instances of it recorded to the credit of those we best know. Industriousness, again, is proverbial in the case of bees and ants “Go to the ant, thou sluggard !” — and noteworthy in the case of many birds, of beavers, and a long list of other animals. Prudence may be illustrated by the case of the camel who fills himself with water enough to last for many desert days, or that of the bird who builds her nest with remarkable ingenuity and pains out of the reach of invaders. Whether or not we shall attribute self-control to the lower animals is a mere matter of definition; in the looser sense we may credit with it the hungry fox who does not touch the bait whose dangerous nature he vaguely suspects. Temperance is probably one of the latest of the virtues, and is rather conspicuously absent in much of human history and biography; but perhaps students of animal psychology can guarantee instances to which the name might fairly be given.
In lesser degree, then, but unmistakably present, we find the same sort of conduct appearing in the animals to which we give in man the names courage, prudence, etc. Purely instinctive these acts usually are — though we may see even in the animals the beginnings of mental conflicts, of reasoning, of reflection. But morality (if we keep to the wider sense of the term) is none the less morality when it is instinctive and natural. Morality is a general name for certain kinds of conduct, certain redirections of impulse. These redirections appeared in animal life long before the emergence of what we may call man from his ape-like ancestry; and all of our self-conscious moral idealism is but a continuation and development of the process then begun. Any theory of right and wrong must take account of the fact that morality, unlike art, science, and religion, is not an exclusively human affair. In contrast with these late and purely human innovations, it is hoary with antiquity and the possession, in some rudimentary form or other, of nearly the whole realm of organic life.
What were the main causes that produced personal morality?
How did these germinal forms of courage, prudence, industriousness, etc., first come into existence? The answer to this question will also show what are the main underlying causes that promote these virtues to-day.
(1) They are in part due to certain organic needs and cravings which exist independently of the individual's