Moral Science; a Compendium of Ethics eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 487 pages of information about Moral Science; a Compendium of Ethics.

The objectors need to be reminded that Obligatory Morality, which works by punishment, creates a purely selfish motive; that Optional Morality, in so far as stimulated by Reward, is also selfish; and that the only source of purely disinterested impulses is in the unprompted Sympathy of the individual mind.  If such sympathies exist, and if nothing is done to uproot or paralyze them, they will urge men to do good to others, irrespective of all theories.  Good done from any other source or motive is necessarily self-seeking.  It is a common remark, with reference to the sanctions of a future life, that they create purely self-regarding motives.  Any proposal to increase disinterested action by moral obligation contains a self-contradiction; it is suicidal.  The rich may be made to give half their wealth to the poor; but in as far as they are made to do it, they are not benevolent.  Law distrusts generosity and supersedes it.  If a man is expected to regard the happiness of others as an end in itself, and not as means to his own happiness, he must be left to his own impulses:  ’the quality of mercy is not strained’ The advocates of Utility may observe non-interference as well as others.



1.  The chief question in the Psychology of Ethics is whether the Moral Faculty, or Conscience, be a simple or a complex fact of the mind.

Practically, it would seem of little importance in what way the moral faculty originated, except with a view to teach us how it may be best strengthened when it happens to be weak.  Still, a very great importance has been attached to the view, that it is simple and innate; the supposition being that a higher authority thereby belongs to it.  If it arises from mere education, it depends on the teacher for the time being; if it exists prior to all education, it seems to be the voice of universal nature or of God.

2.  In favour of the simple and intuitive character of Moral Sentiment, it is argued:—­

First, That our judgments of right and wrong are immediate and instantaneous.

On almost all occasions, we are ready at once to pronounce an action right or wrong.  We do not need to deliberate or enquire, or to canvass reasons and considerations for and against, in order to declare a murder, a theft, or a lie to be wrong.  We are fully armed with the power of deciding all such questions; we do not hesitate, like a person that has to consult a variety of different faculties or interests.  Just as we pronounce at once whether the day is light or dark, hot or cold; whether a weight is light or heavy;—­we are able to say whether an action is morally right or the opposite.

3.  Secondly, It is a faculty or power belonging to all mankind.

This was expressed by Cicero, in a famous passage, often quoted with approbation, by the supporters of innate moral distinctions.  ’There is one true and original law conformable to reason and to nature, diffused over all, invariable, eternal, which calls to duty and deters from injustice, &c.’

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Moral Science; a Compendium of Ethics from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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