The arbitrary ceremonial customs of nations, with reference to such points as ablutions, clothing, eating and abstinence from meats,—when rendered obligatory by the force of penalties, occupy exactly the same place in the mind as the principles of moral right and wrong. The same form of dread attaches to the consequences of neglect; the same remorse is felt by the individual offender. The exposure of the naked person is as much abhorred as telling a lie. The Turkish woman exposing her face, is no less conscience-smitten than if she murdered her child. There is no act, however trivial, that cannot be raised to the position of a moral act, by the imperative of society.
Still more striking is the growth of a moral sentiment in connexion with such usages as the Hindoo suttee. It is known that the Hindoo widow, if prevented from burning herself with her husband’s corpse, often feels all the pangs of remorse, and leads a life of misery and self-humiliation. The habitual inculcation of this duty by society, the penalty of disgrace attached to its omission, operate to implant a sentiment in every respect analogous to the strongest moral sentiment.
THE ETHICAL SYSTEMS.
The first important name in Ancient Ethical Philosophy is SOKRATES. [469-399 B.C.]
For the views of Sokrates, as well as his method, we have first the MEMORABILIA of XENOPHON, and next such of the Platonic Compositions, as are judged, by comparison with the Memorabilia, to keep closest to the real Sokrates. Of these, the chief are the APOLOGY OF SOKRATES, the KRITON and the PHAEDON.
The ‘Memorabilia’ was composed by Xenophon, expressly to vindicate Sokrates against the accusations and unfavourable opinions that led to his execution. The ‘Apology’ is Plato’s account of his method, and also sets forth his moral attitude. The ‘Kriton’ describes a conversation between him and his friend Kriton, in prison, two days before his death, wherein, in reply to the entreaties of his friends generally that he should make his escape from prison, he declares his determination to abide by the laws of the Athenian State. Inasmuch as, in the Apology, he had seemed to set his private convictions above the public authority, he here presents another side of his character. The ‘Phaedon’ contains the conversation on ‘the Immortality of the Soul’ just before his execution.
The Ethical bearings of the Philosophical method, the Doctrines, and the Life of Sokrates. are these:—
The direction he gave to philosophical enquiry, was expressed in the saying that he brought ‘Philosophy down from Heaven to Earth.’ His subjects were Man and Society. He entered a protest against the enquiries of the early philosophers as to the constitution of the Kosmos, the nature of the Heavenly Bodies, the theory of Winds and Storms. He called these Divine things; and in a great degree useless, if understood. The Human relations of life, the varieties of conduct of men towards each other in all capacities, were alone within the compass of knowledge, and capable of yielding fruit. In short, his turn of mind was thoroughly practical, we might say utilitarian.