« AnteriorContinuar »
the anxious care which most men usually devote to this object has no intrinsic value, nor the maxim from which they act any moral import." 1
What shall we say to this?
(1) Kant's statements are a mere crystallization of an unanalyzed feeling; their plausibility rests upon our ingrained enthusiasm for goodness. But if that enthusiasm be challenged, how shall we justify it? How do we know that good will is good, unless we can see why it is good? Many other things appeal to our instincts as good; may not this particular judgment be mistaken, or may not all these other things be equally good with good will? Kant's Hebraic training is clearly revealed in his exaltation of good will; it reflects the practical Lebensweisheit we have learned from the Bible. To the Greek it would have been foolishness, fanaticism. We want not only good will, but wisdom, sympathy, skill, common sense. Also we want health, love, wives and children, friends, and congenial work. All of these things are part of the worth of life. What would it profit us if we lost all these and had only our good will!2 The valuation that ignores all natural goods but one is unreal, inhuman, fanatical; it leads when unchecked to the emasculated life of the anæmic medieval saint or anchorite. Kant's eloquent eulogy of good will appeals to one of our noblest impulses; but that impulse is as much in need of justification to the reason as any other, and it is only one of a number of equally healthy and justifiable natural preferences. Good will, the
1 The Metaphysic of Morality, sec. I.
2 A reductio ad absurdum of the Kantian view may be found in Cardinal Newman's statement of the Catholic Christian view. "The Church holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fall, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse." (Anglican Difficulties, p. 190.)
desire to do right, is perhaps, on the whole, in the emergency, a safer guide to trust than warm-blooded impulse or reasoned calculation. Moreover, it has a thin, precarious existence in most of us at best, and needs all the encouragement it can get. Practically, we need Kant's kind of sermonizing; we need to exalt abstract goodness and resist the appeal of immediate and sensuous goods. So Kant has been popular with earnest men more interested in right living than in theory. But as a theorist he is hopelessly inadequate.
(2) It is true that we admire good will without consideration of the effects it produces, and even when it leads to disaster. But if good will usually led to disaster we should never have come to admire it. Chance enters into this world's happenings and often upsets the normal tendencies of acts. But we have to act in ways that may normally be expected to produce good results. And we have to admire and cherish that sort of action, in spite of the margin of loss. The admiration that we have come to feel for goodness is partly the result of social tradition, buttressing the code that in the long run works out to best advantage; and partly, of course, the spontaneous emotion that rises in us at the sight of courage, heroism, self-sacrifice, and the other spectacular virtues. But however naïve or sophisticated a reaction it may be, its psychogenesis is perfectly intelligible, and its existence is no proof of the supernal nature of the goodness of "good will."
(3) Kant argues as follows: "Nothing can possibly be conceived, in the world or out of it, which can be called good without qualification, except a good will." He goes on to show that wit, courage, perseverance, etc., are all bad if the will that makes use of them is bad as in the case of a criminal; while health, riches, honor, etc., may inspire pride or presumption, and so not be unmitigated goods. Good 1 Op. cit., sec. I.
will, then, is the one thing that can in every case be called good.
But is this so? May not a man have good will and yet do much mischief? If courage, wit, etc., need to be employed by good will, so does good will need to be joined with common sense, knowledge, tact, and many other helpers. Good will is good only if it is sanely and wisely directed; else it may go with all sorts of fanaticism. If one says, "It is still good qua good will," we may reply, "Yes, but so are all goods; courage is always good qua courage, knowledge qua knowledge," etc. All harmless joys are good without qualification, and all goods whatever are good except as they get in the way of some greater good or lead to trouble.
(4) Kant's formula "good will" is ambiguous. Of course a good act of will is good; that is a mere tautology, and gives us no guidance whatever. Which acts of will are good is our problem. Kant, however, worked out his empty formula into a concrete maxim, “Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature." But how should we wish others to act in the given situation? It would be quite possible for a lustful man to be willing that unrestrained lust should be the general rule; he would be much more comfortable and freer if it were. There is nothing in the law of consistency to direct him; men might be consistently bad as well as consistently good. We have still no criterion, only an appeal to coolness, to detachment from hot impulses and selfishness.
Practically, what the Kantian viewpoint amounts to is an exaltation of conscience a much more concrete (and variable) thing than this abstract formula. Do your duty, at any cost! Our hearts respond to such preaching, but our intellects remain perplexed, if the practical apotheosis of goodness is not supplemented by an adequate theoretic justification thereof.
What evils may go with conscientiousness?
At this point it may repay us to note more carefully the inadequacy of that mere blind conscientiousness which is the practical burden of the Kantian teaching. One would think that the only source of our troubles lay in our lack of desire to do right! As a matter of fact, there is a vast amount of good will in the world which effects no good, or does serious harm, for want of wise direction. Much of the tragedy of life consists of the clashes between wills equally consecrated and pure. Conscientious cranks and blunderers are perhaps even more of a nuisance than out-and-out villains; they hurt every good cause they espouse and bring noble ideals into ridicule; they provoke discouragement and cynicism. There is hardly a folly or a crime that has not been committed prayerfully and with a clear conscience; the saint and the criminal are sometimes psychologically indistinguishable indeed, by which name we call a fanatic may depend upon which side we are on. We may discriminate among the types of perverted conscience:
(1) The fanatical conscience, the meddling conscience, that feels a mission to stir up trouble. Under this head come the parents who interfere needlessly with their children's ways when different from their own, the breakers-up of love-affairs, the fault-finders, the militantly religious, all that great multitude of men who with prayer and tears have felt it their duty to override others' wills and impose their codes upon the world.
(2) The obstructive conscience, that has become set and will not suffer change. Here we can put all the earnest "stand-patters," who resist innovation of every sort. Slaves of the particular standards that they happen to have grown up in, unable to conceive that their individual brand of religion may not be the ultimate truth, horror-struck at
the suggestion that we should forsake the ways of ou fathers, their conscientious conservatism stands like a rock in the way of progress.
(3) The ascetic conscience, that overemphasizes the need of sacrifice, and deletes all the positive joy of life for the sake of freedom from possible pain. This particular misdirection of conscience is not prominent in contemporary life; but at certain periods, as among some of the medieval saints, or the early Puritans, this hypertrophy of conscience has been a serious blight.
(4) The anxious conscience, that magnifies trifles and gives us no rest with its incessant suggestions, lest we forget, lest we forget. This type of overconscientiousness is a form of unhealthy self-consciousness, a bane to its possessor and a nuisance to every one within range.
These familiar evils that may go with the utmost good will show us that good will or conscientiousness is not enough. The conscientious man may not only leave undone important duties; his good will may lead him to push in exactly the wrong direction and do great harm. There are thus two ways of judging a man. First, did he do the best he knew? Did he live up to his conscience? Secondly, did he do what was really best? Was his conscience properly developed and directed? Our approval must often be divided; we may rate him high by the standard of conscientiousness, but low in his standard of morality. This is the familiar distinction between what is objectively right and what is subjectively right. An objectively right action is "one such that, if it be done, the total value of the universe will be at least as great as if any other possible alternative had been done by the agent"; whereas "it is subjectively right for the agent to do what he judges to be most probably objectively right on his information" - whether he judges